Allergies be Damned: Central in Lima, Peru
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
I have been traveling to Peru for many years now and have tried the the tasting menu at Central a handful of times. In each instance, I have informed them of my allergies and they have substituted the offending dishes. The wine pairing is so exquisite, so well-harmonized that I decided I must try the menu as constructed by Virgilio Martinez. I made a reservation for the new year and I took some medication before I headed out to enjoy probably the greatest meal I have ever had. I should note that the tasting menu is not for those with meat-and-potato tastes. It is an adventure, a series of culinary experiments that challenge the palate and one's ideas of what is edible and what constitutes a meal.
I spent the better part of the day preparing for dinner. I woke up early and had a light breakfast at the hotel and took care of some business matters. I made sure to hydrate since I knew I would be indulging in the wine pairing later that night. After a few hours of work, I enjoyed a a light lunch: ceviche and a causa. I did not finish either of the dishes knowing that I did not want to ruin my appetite. After lunch I had some more work to do and then I returned to the hotel to shower and shave. I wanted to feel just right for the meal. I called my Uber and off I went. Walking through the lobby I could tell that those around me knew there was something special in my future.
The ride was uneventful. I arrived at the restaurant in Barranco and once again noticed the beautiful setting. It was dark and the lighting at Casa Tupac, the complex that houses Central, Kjolle, and Mayo, glowed with elegance. I was shown to my table and introduced to both the server and sommelier. They informed me of what was to come and so it began.
An exceptional dish. It is a worthy introduction to this tour de force. The course is a piure that explodes with citrus as you place it in your mouth. It both surprises and refreshes the palate as way of introduction of what is to come. The wine begins to harmonize the course from the aroma. Even before one drinks, the bouquet blends with the flavor of the piure, and that is then followed by the flavor of the wine itself that complements the citrus with a more subdued tone.
Prickly pear is flavorful and refreshing and pairs nicely with the sweet wafer continuing the lightness of the previous dish, but without the citrus. The clam dish changes the pace with a strong flavor that contrasts the delicate flavors of the first part. One must be careful to not miss the sauce at bottom of dish. The wine pairs well with the whole dish. However, the flavors are not as pleasant when one misses the bottom of the dish.
Tierra de altura
The black mashwa is a dark almost smokey sweetness, as if it were a dessert. The yellow Mashwa is a delightful crystal of sweet and salt with a hint of fish. But the duck is a beautiful cured darkness that begins to add substance to the tasting menu. The duck’s flavor is sustained by the wine, thus prolonging the pleasure of the moment.
Paiche is a flavorful fish with a strong flavor all its own. The ingurahui warms and coats the palate. The citric element that is central in this menu returns and balances the paiche. The highlight of this course, however, was the harmony between the pacae and the wine. The wine not only sustained the flavor, it adopted it.
This was a special dish. Some incredibly light bread that was like eating textured clouds. The Copuazú butter was exquisitely rich and light. Not the first dish at Central to appear to be an oxymoron of texture.
Terreno de mar
A pause of sorts. A beautiful presentation of a refreshing mix of flavors combining calamar and huarango. However, the third drink in the pairing was a complex and smooth spumante that was truly exceptional. It paired extremely well with the lightness of the course.
The Extrema altura was an experiment in how to harmonize a wine: smooth and structured.
This was the low point of the menu for me. The dish itself is good but not great. The flavors of the course seem to clash with the rest of the menu. I don’t taste a counterpoint but a clash of flavors that bring me out of a beautiful dream.
This dish was interesting. I had never had piranha and the filet was subtle yet substantive. I need to go back to it to reflect on it some more.
This was a deadly combination of dark flavors. Full bodied and complex. A turning point in the menu. It begins with the Langostino Amazonico and concludes with the cecina that grounds it in place.
I was conflicted with this dish. It is without a doubt a delicious dish. The lamb is heavy with flavor and that weight is further intensified by the leche de oveja. The jump in both flavor and texture is a bit much as this dish is heavier by far than the rest of menu.
The dinner continued through a few more courses but I stopped taking notes and focused entirely on enjoying the experience. I was once again in awe of both the chef and the team of sommeliers that work at Central. The menu is an experience to enjoy with patience and care. I cannot wait for my next opportunity to try it again.