Florida and Peru share a big common characteristic. Both are known worldwide as a destination that eclipses all others in their respective locales. While Disney dominates the Sunshine State, Machu Picchu is the first thing out of people’s mouths in mentioning Peru. The spiritual archaeological site tops many bucket lists and draws such a steady stream of tourists that it has earned the nickname Inca Inc. But like Miami, Lima too is coming up for its burgeoning culinary and cultural scenes. Plagued for decades by political unrest and terrorism, the coastal capital has finally stabilized to the point that it’s inspiring gastronomy and pisco pilgrimages.
PERU ON A PLATE
There’s been an enormous push toward nouveau Peruvian cuisine combining native, traditional ingredients and modern, haute techniques and presentations. The results have been so well-received that two Lima leaders behind this delicious form of nationalism made S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna’s list for the world’s 50 best restaurants. One spot belongs to Central, chef Virgilio Martínez’s love song to his heritage, where he celebrates the Amazon’s bounty, Andean potato varieties and the local waters that teem with ceviche-ready seafood. In his latest tasting menu, called Mater Elevations, each dish represents an altitude (he goes up to 13,000 feet!) where a key ingredient is sourced as part of his research foundation’s mission. Martínez also harvests herbs and edible flowers from a rooftop garden. His mother, an architect, designed the restaurant so every diner has a kitchen view. The best seat in the house? The chef’s table, smack-dab in Martínez’s work space and serviced by the Michelin-starred chef himself.
The second spot opened 20 years ago, when Martínez’s mentor, Gastón Acurio, debuted Astrid y Gastón with his wife and fellow graduate of Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu. Outgrowing their original location, which was touted as Latin America’s top restaurant, they relocated this winter to Casa Moreyra, a meticulously restored historic hacienda in the San Isidro neighborhood. Several world-renowned counterparts have already visited the $2-million temple’s 60-seat gastrobar, handful of kitchens and maze of mirrored dining halls and private rooms. (Luckily, Miamians won’t need a passport to savor Acurio’s gourmet gifts. His La Mar was recently launched at Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key, bringing his global empire to 35 restaurants spanning 12 countries.)
Though most upscale eateries and shops are located in the Miraflores district, it’s the seaside Barranco neighborhood that claims the best boutique hotels. The bohemian enclave’s summer estates, once owned by elite colonists, have been gentrified despite their perilous perch along the Pacific. Hotel B, the city’s first and only Relais & Chateaux property, occupies a white wedding cake of a mansion that’s straight out of the Belle Epoque and is a national monument. At least a few artworks from its large, mainly contemporary collection hang in each of the 17 suites. Guests can leaf through art books from an extensive library during daily lonchecito, Lima’s teatime with Peruvian pastries. Art also takes center stage at the aptly named Second Home Peru, sculptor and painter Víctor Delfín’s hotel and gallery in his grand yet warm and welcoming residence. His life’s work fills every corner including the magical courtyard, where two black labs laze about, and rear gardens with breathtaking ocean views. After breakfast is served in the family kitchen, the lively octogenarian often treats guests to a studio tour.
PAST & PRESENT
Museo Larco’s trove of pre-Columbian pottery, textiles and precious metal works dates as far back as 5,000 years. Even non-museum goers are bowled over by its bougainvilleas and storerooms, whose sheer numbers of artifacts recall contemporary art installations. Dine at its glam garden cafe or continue the history lesson later that evening back in Miraflores at Huaca Pucllana restaurant across from the eponymous, pre-Inca pyramid. A quick stroll through Barranco’s flower-filled park and over the Bridge of Sighs lies Asociación Mario Testino (MATE), whose chic setting houses the largest collection of photographs by one of the most famous names in fashion and a Lima native, no less. The Permanent Collection, an exhibit of his iconic works, premieres in April.
Take back Galería Indigo’s classic housewares and crafts, and Kuna’s fashions woven from fine fibers such as vicuña and alpaca. The Lores Fernandez family runs Dédalo Arte y Artesanía lifestyle store and gallery as a cultural headquarters extending to performances. From April 17 to May 11, local ceramics artist Elisabeth Osés exhibits Mamamía, quirky, female figurines in honor of Mother’s Day. The city also has its fair share of fashion designers, who sell out of their ateliers. Noe Bernacelli’s and Roger Loayza’s couture gowns and ready-to-wear have been shown in Paris, the latter favoring minimalism and tongue-in-cheek themes like Spring 2014’s Shoplifter collection, cleverly orchestrated through neon brooches resembling security tags and a tote stuffed in another tote.
Legendary chef Gastón Acurio is set to bring his Peruvian delicacies to Miami when he opens the much-anticipated La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental this spring. So who better to offer up suggestions for where to dine in Lima? Here, Acurio’s list for good eats in the city that made him famous. La Picantería. Share talones de ternera (veal) and ceviche at communal tables.
Así de Simple. Perfect for a quick bite of escabeche de pescado (fish pickled in vinegar).
La Panka. Go for Peruvian mainstays anticuchos (beef heart kabobs) and pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken).
Maido. Its Nikkei chef offers the best nigiri tasting menu in town.
Fiesta. Sample traditional Peruvian dishes like collar de mero Murique (grouper) and chirimpico con sangrecita made with goat meat and offal.