My trip to Peru last fall wasnâ€™t planned as a gastronomic tour, but thatâ€™s what it turned into. From Cusco to Arequipa to Lima, some of the best meals Iâ€™ve tasted were on that trip. Peruâ€™s culinary scene is a true melting pot of cultures, and that rich heritage is enhanced by the fact that almost any ingredient you could want grows in this country.
There was one foodie destination on my trip checklist, though: I wanted to dine at Astrid y Gaston. Iâ€™d first heard of chef GastÃ³n Acurio on a prior trip to South America, and Iâ€™d read a lot about him. In addition to his restaurants in Lima, Bogota, Caracas, Panama, Quito, Santiago and Madrid, Acurio has his own cooking show and is a popular media personality. I expected to be impressed with his restaurant, Astrid y Gaston, in the elegant Miraflores neighborhood, and it lived up to its advance billing. Located on a tiny street that runs off the crowded Parque Miraflores (where there are frequent open-air concerts, and where the beautiful church Parroquia la Virgen Milagrosa sits on the eastern edge), Astrid y Gaston was an intriguing combination of formality and irreverence. The setting â€” an old colonial mansion â€” is stunning, the service is impeccable, and the atmosphere is lively and warm.
The waiter who served my table spoke fluent English, but using a Spanish-language celiac card made it easier to explain my dietary restrictions. After a conference in the kitchen, I was told that about half the items on the relatively long menu were naturally gluten-free, and that several others could be modified to be so. I started with ceviche, the classic Peruvian dish of raw seafood marinated in lime juice. Iâ€™d been trepidatious about trying this dish earlier on my trip â€” eating uncooked seafood is normally too big a risk when you want to stay healthy â€” but the dish I had at Astrid y Gaston was perfect (and perfectly healthy). My main course â€” a spicy tuna steak with a hint of sweetness mixed in â€” was just as satisfying.
I donâ€™t know if the other outposts of Gaston y Astrid are as celiac-friendly as the one in Lima, and Iâ€™d love to hear from readers who have tried them. This month, GastÃ³n Acurio is opening a restaurant in San Francisco â€” La Mar Cebicheria Peruana at the Embarcaderoâ€™s Pier 1.5 â€” and I canâ€™t wait to try it on my next visit.
Astrid y Gaston [address] Calle Cantuarias 175, Miraflores (Lima), Peru [tel] 01/444-1496 [web] www.astridygaston.com