November 10, 2017

Peru in the Valley

Pin It

A few weeks ago I received a message from The Specialist.  She had received news from the Hong Kong Jockey Club about their next guest chef, and wanted to know whether it was worthwhile to go.  As soon as I found out that it was Virgilio Martinez from Central, I told her that we should go together.  She rounded up the Alcoholics and booked us a table for tonight.

I am still recovering from my cold, but at least I felt fine.  I needed to be in good shape for all the wines as well as the food that would be at our table tonight...

Due to a bad traffic jam, I was almost half an hour late.  Thankfully my friends seemed fairly forgiving, and I was glad to finally have a chance to see Virgilio again after missing each other at the end of August.  It would be my third time having a taste of his cuisine, and a good opportunity to get more exposure to Peruvian ingredients and flavors as I prepare for my expedition to Peru next year.

Although the menu didn't specify the altitude or a particular Peruvian region/ecosystem, Virgilio explained that all their menus begin below sea level.

Shrimp, avocado and kiwicha - the crackers are made with sargassum, and paired with raw shrimp, mashed avocado, and kiwicha.

One is meant to spoon the contents of the bowl onto the cracker, which creates a colorful and delicious bite that is at once creamy (avocado) and crunchy (sargassum cracker and kiwicha), and the raw prawns delivered both a soft texture together with a light crunch.

Turbot, rocoto emulsion and green Andean grains - the quinoa was seasoned/dyed with huacatay, an aromatic Andean herb.  The dish was meant to be a "hot ceviche", where the rocoto emulsion - with good acidity and just a hint of chili - would cook the slices of mostly-raw turbot.  Besides colorful edible flowers, we also had a few spears of salicornia.  This was a dish that was beautiful both to the eyes as well as on the palate.

Squid, cecina and corn - one of the signature dishes of Central is the diversidad de maíz, as Peru has over 170 different varieties of corn.  Here Virgilio presented 7 varieties of corn - a white, a black, a yellow, a crispy variety, and chullpi, among others.  Strips of seared squid were buried underneath the foam and the purée, while strips of house-cured cecina were laid on top.

This seemed the polar opposite of most of the dishes I have had from Virgilio, as the flavors were really heavy and rich.  There was certainly sweetness in the foam, but for the most part the dish was salty and the flavors of the ham were pretty prominent.

Seared lettuce and scallops - the scallops were perfectly seared, and in fact we were told that the scallops and the braised lettuce were harvested on the same day.  The acidity in the sauce worked very well with the sweetness of the scallops.

Duck crudo, petals and anticucho - the lattice on top was made from dried sweet potatoes.  The duck was very tasty, but what stole the show was certainly the anticucho sauce which delivered familiar flavors of Latin American spices along with a little sweetness.  There were also very finely diced peppers in the sauce.

Miyazaki wagyu sirloin A4, panca pepper, Andean - when I first received the menu, I was a little shocked that Virgilio was using an ingredient like Miyazaki wagyu.  Not very Peruvian.  But then I remembered the first time I had his beef dish and how tough the beef was... And as I talked with him after this dish, I realized that it was a way for him to make sure he got decent beef - else he wouldn't know what quality he would get if he simply asked for beef.

And he does tend to cook beef a little more than what I would like as a "steak" - it had a crust and was a little on the chewy side - so in this case the marbling of the Japanese beef helped ensure that the texture wasn't all dry and tough with this level of doneness.

Peruvian tubers and vegetables were puréed and covered the beef, with slices of oca laid on top.  The presentation included some leaves to give one a sense of being in the mountains.  Virgilio explained that in Central these would be coca leaves, but he couldn't exactly bring them into Hong Kong, could he...

Humid green "dessert", everything from Lima - lime ice cream at the bottom covered by broken chunks of compressed maca powder.  The red granita was made with fruit of a red cactus, while the green granita was made with caigua.  The zest of the lime has been burnt and then made into the black powder scattered on the plate, while the light gray powder was made of maca.  Deliciously refreshing thanks to the cold temperatures delivered by the ice cream and granita, while the acidity was tempered with the different powders.  Another stunningly beautiful dessert from Virgilio.

This being an Alcoholics' gathering, there were of course plenty of good wines.  Rice kicked off by offering up a 1990 Salon, so the rest of us would have to do what we could to match...

1990 Louis Roederer Cristal - very caramelized nose, with savory minerals, fragrant, sweet grass.  Nice and still plenty of acidity on the palate.

1990 Salon - higher acidity than the Cristal, also caramelized nose, but more flinty.  Still got some fizz here.

2007 Etienne Sauzet Batard-Montrachet - initially served too cold so not very open.  Very dry on the palate, a little toasty at first.  Worked wonderfully with the dishes.

2007 Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques - fruity, minty, dried herbs, a little floral, lots of eucalyptus, really beautiful.

2004 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée - this was fucking beautiful.  Soooo sweet and fruity, with leather notes.

We all had a pretty good time, and the dishes continued to deliver plenty of surprise and pleasure for me even the third time around.  Now I'm REALLY looking forward to dining at Central next year... AND his new lab up in Cuzco.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map