"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bar Paya, June 26, 2010, and some Segundo Muelle (and a tiny bit of Pio Pio)


What do you know about Peruvian cuisine? Have you ever been to Lima? No? Then, I am lost. How do you describe a cuisine - the French comes with sauce and the Italian with pasta? Fine, there may be a grain of truth there. But, isn't French cuisine much more than its sauce such as cassoulet, terrine and croissant? You say, how about foie gras. One, it is an ingredient: Just because the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans all eat rice, rice-eating does not make all these three cuisines the same. Two, should we give credits to the inventor or the user? This is a problem, isn't it? Foie gras was first recorded as being enjoyed by the Egyptians - e.g. Cleopatra. I say "enjoyed" instead of "invented" because who knows when it was invented: one day anyone might have captured a particular greedy duck and found a surprisingly fatty liver inside. How did it end up as the beloved national treasure protected under the French laws? I do not know. Fast-forwarding 5,000 years from the Egyptians, today Hungry is also known for its foie gras (and I am told, China makes them, too...); however, Hungarian food is nowhere similar to the French, is it not?

It is better then to just tell you one dish that is particularly well-known and well-done in Peru - ceviche. I can already hear your "buts" and "what-abouts." Yes, I am aware you can have it in Mexico and other Latin American countries: You can have sushi in New York, but does it make sushi New American (don't you find this expression distasteful?)? Nonetheless, I can assure you that Peruvians really got it down pat and perfect: it is, after all, a part of the Peruvian cuisine. I can give you another example of the superiority of ceviche in Peru over Mexico - Sugundo Muelle. Segundo Muelle is a Peruvian restaurant in Lima (which had been temporarily closed due to, shhhh, tax evasion, I am told) with branches in Latin America (Why do chefs branch out? Can one chef be in multiple locations at dinner time? Maybe they have invented an instantaneous travel device? I hear that Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se uses a teleconference device, but does it transmit smell, taste and texture?). When I visited the original in Lima, it blew my mind away (especially after a week of roast chicken and alpaca in the mountains). The complexity of flavors were just sublime. Also their delectable grilled octopus and decadently rich and firm (yes, firm!) flan just sealed my approval. Therefore, it was with much anticipation and trust that I again made my reservation at Segundo Muelle's branch in Mexico. However, the food at this Mexican branch (has any branch ever surpassed its original and master? I haven't heard) was a disgrace, and let us leave it at that because I am sure you do not need any additional dose of my sarcasm.

Bar Paya

With all the different authentic and not-so-authentic restaurants in New York, I was surprised that there was not really any Peruvian restaurant (yes, I know Pio Pio and I roast chicken better, all right?) in New York. But this anomaly has been corrected, partially at any rate, by Bar Paya. Partially, I say, because the menu is not extensive - it is a bar after all. Bar Paya serves some delicious ceviche and tiraditos (ceviche - cubed, tiraditos - sliced). Sea bass with orange was good but it paled in front of the triumphant Fried in style of La Gloria (this sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Imagine fried ice cream, dipped in light batter: it is the same concept so that it is still predominantly raw and chill inside) or the delicate scallops with coconut milk. Octopus tiradito still has much to be improved as the meat was simply tough. I forgot what it tasted like because I was concentrated on chewing, not tasting. Now, causas - basically big gnocchi topped with spicy crab salad or barbecued duck - were an eye-popping moment. I love gnocchi; I have had a life-changing experience just last month in Vence (that is in France). Yet these causas were, although not life-changing, but good enough to put a chain around my neck and draw me back to Bar Paya. Paya, yes, the name of this bar-restaurant, is a flat bread. Laden with shrimp and cilantro pesto, the paya was highly satisfying in its texture - crunchiness of the flat bread and the plumpness of the shrimps - and of course, flavors of the cilantro pesto (cilantro is my weakness, but I assure you such weakness was not taken advantage of, unjustly). Now, dessert - the cacao tart. It is gluten-free and vegan, but these attributes I do not care (as much). It was so full of chocolate flavor that I am sure Quetzalcoatl would have danced in joy (I know he is Aztec but he would have danced anyway).

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