Peru: Part II – innovation and veneration in Peru’s best restaurants

14 Mar

In the last several years Peruvian cuisine has become a starlet of the food scene. A few restaurants in particular are credited with bringing Peruvian cooking to world-wide attention, such as Astrid & Gaston, Malabar, and Central, which is currently considered the best restaurant in Latin America. The food at these experimental restaurants often bears little resemble to the comida criollo discussed in my last post. But what fascinates and attracts me and so many others to these high end Peruvian restaurants are their reflections on and reinventions of traditional, even ancient, ingredients. Perhaps no one does this better than Virgilio Martinez, the chef behind Central.


High in the Peruvian Andes. About 2600 meters.

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Peru: Part I – Favorites from Lima: ceviche, chicharron, and comida criollo

31 Dec IMG_2463

My interest in Peru started first as an fascination with the Inca empire. As a kid I was prone to spending hours flipping through National Geographic magazines, and I have distinct memories of glossy photos of the brightly colored kipu knots and golden vestments of the Inca.

Years after I had last touched a National Geographic, I finally made a trip to Peru and saw firsthand the magnificence of the Incas at Macchu Picchu.  But I also experienced the other national treasure of Peru, which some might argue is on par with Macchu Picchu – the food. For those new to South American cuisine, it can be easy to overlook the variety of culinary traditions and flavors among the different countries. But the food of Peru is completely unique, and truly in a league of its own. Lima is regularly rated among the best destinations in the world for food, and has multiple restaurants that are ranked along with Noma and Eleven Madison Park as the best restaurants in the world.


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Vietnam: a guide to food, from north to south. PART 2

10 Sep

Vietnam made such an impression on me that I wanted to devote adequate time and space to discussing my experiences, both with the food and otherwise. The previous post focused on Hanoi and Hue, which were also the first two stops along our trip. The next major stops were Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, the feature cities of this post.

View from the Hai Van pass

View from the Hai Van pass

We made the trip from Hue to Hoi An by bus, through the winding roads in the montains of central Vietnam. Closer to Hue we saw lush, flat rice fields dotted with water buffalo, but the scenery changed one we got on the Hai Van pass, one of two main routes between Hue and Hoi An. The pass is known for both its breathtaking scenic beauty, and also it’s breathtaking (or nauseating…) switch back turns.

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Vietnam: a guide to food, from north to south – PART 1

12 Aug Bun thit nuong in Hue

Before travelling to Vietnam, I was largely ignorant of its serene natural beauty, bustling and quickly transforming cities, and incredible food culture.  Vietnam in my mind was primarily associated with the Vietnam War (known as the American War to the Vietnamese), which I suspect is the case for many other Americans.

Halong Bany by night

Halong Bay by night

Though I was in Vietnam for only two weeks, I saw a country that was culturally rich and diverse, relentlessly devoted to modernization, and unbelievably welcoming to visitors. It seems to have all but left behind the shadow of the Vietnam war. There is too much to say about Vietnam to fit in a blog post, or even a book, and I am not an expert on any part of it. So I will focus on the activity I partook in at least three times a day, and which never ceased to give me great pleasure – eating.

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16 Jun

Many of the restaurants in New York are best enjoyed at a certain time of day for a particular meal. But finding a restaurant where you feel equally at home for different meals, and the meals are equally as satisfying, is rare.

One of the only restaurants in New York where I feel I could spend all day is Maialino at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Lots of New Yorkers and New York food writers are familiar with the Maialino, so demand for a table or even a seat at the first-come first-first serve communal bar can be high. But even among the brunch crowds and dressed up dinner diners, I feel at home.


Part of this is because of the friendliness of servers, a trademark of Danny Meyer restaurants, and also because there is something amazing to eat at any time day.
During breakfast at Maialino, the sounds of the espresso machine beckons. And my eyes can’t avoid catching the dozens of pastries behind a glass case, obviously put in place to invite ogling but to protect from grubby hands like my own.


A breakfast there is impossible without a cortado and something from behind that case. My favorites are the toffee-glazed brioche bun and glazed lemon cake (the jam it’s served with changes regularly), but the almond croissant is another nice crunchy, flaky, chewy morning treat.
What I love about Mailaino for brunch are its wide windows that look out onto Gramercy Park, making it a pleasant place to linger over some weekend reading, and the bar tenders who are friendly enough to offer samples of wine if you ask enough questions. Though it’s not always on the menu, my favorite brunch item is the Fagioli e Salsiccia – white beans cooked with blood sausage and a perfectly done egg. It’s amazing with a sip of that sample wine.
I’ve moved away from typical brunch items lately (i.e. eggs, bacon, waffles), but some Sundays nothing but the the ricotta pancakes with kumquat jam will do. They’re everything you would hope for in a  pancake – perfectly round, browned, and fluffy. The tartness of the kumquats is unexpected and a good contrast to the richness of the ricotta.
What I love about Maialino for lunch is the warm afternoon lull you may (or may not) find in the winter, and the satisfaction that comes after finishing the garganelli pasta. Garganelli is a small, tube shaped pasta and at Maialino is done in a tomato-y sauce, though the ingredients of the sauce rotate in and out. I’ve tried it with oxtail and pork.
In the event you’re carbo-loading, or not, I recommend a side of roasted potatoes, which are salty, a little cheesy, and fragrant with rosemary.
Dinner, with the elegant din of people eating and drinking, is a different experience. The restaurant feels romantic in the evening, even when I’m eating the massive and messy late night burger. For a more Italian and grown up, date-appropriate meal, I’d probably go for the crisp fried artichokes, and the carbonara or papardelle with milk braised pork ragu.
Also, according to wine-loving friends Maialino has an great wine list, if you’re into that kind of thing. I am rather a wine novice, but the wine list feels nearly as heavy as a bible and I’ve had some very enjoyable wine ordered, of course, by others more knowledgeable than me.


Perfect for: any meal if you want to impress someone
Perfect meal: cortado, toffee brioche bun, Fagioli e Salsiccia


Neighborhood: Gramercy/Flatiron

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Simple Provisions

Food does not need to be fancy to be celebrated


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