Xoma, first taste.
I shall start by saying that it is rare for a first visit to a restaurant to guarantee that I will be back at least two more times. Such was the case when I visited Xoma. Once upon a time, when I was in college, I bought a CD (do people even buy CD’s anymore) on the strength of one song. The result could have been disappointing. However, the CD was quite good. In Xoma, I will return once and again on the strength of one dish: the duck. Now this is not to say that I won’t try other dishes. But though doubtful, if one were to be unsatisfying, I would return just for the duck.
I am jumping ahead of myself. I made a reservation at Xoma because I wanted a quiet and relaxed meal. I had been working non-stop for a couple of days and I needed a break. I had visited this space when IK was housed here, and I recalled that it was a serene ambiance. So I looked up the location and found that a new restaurant was now occupying the space. Without much thought I booked a reservation. I noticed that not only was there a tasting menu, but also a blind dining experience. I nonetheless booked a table to dine a la carte.
I arrived to find the restaurant nearly empty. Not a good sign. The dining room was dimly lit and soothing music was playing. The first thought that came to me was that I would love to bring my wife here. I was seated next to the kitchen and the waitress came to take my order. It is difficult for me to see a steak tartare on the menu and not order it. This was no exception. I also ordered some bread, and I was then torn between three dishes: duck, picaña, and crrillera. The waitress mentioned that the duck was one of the chef’s specialties and that was that. I asked what she recommended for wine, and she sent over the sommelier. She made three recommendations and I decided on a Peruvian malbec blend. The experience was set.
For being a malbec, the wine was not very full-bodied. It reminded me more of a tempranillo. It was refreshing but lacking complexity. While it did not distract from the meal, it added only a little.
The tartare came and the presentation was unique. The steak itself served with a valois sauce made from tucupi and was hidden under a crust of white pituca. It was an excellent opening act to the main course. The wine harmonized it well enough, but again, it did not stoke the flavors of the meal, nor did it reveal any hidden flavors. It was a fine complement. The tartare itself was excellent. There was a hint of spice provided by the tucupi. It was light and flavorful.
But what was to come was The Duck. THE DUCK. THE DUCK. I was given the option of either leg or breast and of course I chose leg. The presentation was beautiful: colorful, balanced, symmetrical. The duck confit was at the center of the plate surrounded by rice in a pekin sauce covered by induvial mounds of cilantro, peas, onions, loche (a type of squash), and two small rings of rocoto. The aroma was intoxicating. Without much pause I began to work on the dish. The first bite was a combination of the duck, rice, cilantro, onion, and loche. It was glorious. My mind was spinning trying to decipher the individual flavors and flavor combinations. The duck was rich, and the flavors of the cilantro, onion, and rice made it come alive. However, what was truly a surprise was the juiciness provided by the loche, which in turn, allowed the flavors of the distinct ingredients to dance in my mouth. I was stunned by the richness of the dish. The next bite once again included the duck and rice, along with onion and cilantro. But this time I was able to include a couple of peas. Another surprise. The comparatively strong flavor of the peas and its pasty texture added yet another nuance to an already nuanced dish. I spent the rest of the meal trying different flavor combinations and each was as exquisite as the next. Still, I had left the two slices of rocoto aside, and I decided it was time to fire off one of them.
My experience with Peruvian cuisine is that, while certainly flavorful, it does not generally exploit peppers. The rocoto, however is a spicy pepper that compares well to some of the spicier Mexican chiles. I combined the rocoto with the duck, rice, cilantro, and onion. I was immediately taken by the heightened intensity of this ingredient in the dish. My first thought was that the rocoto was too strong for such a nuanced dish. Was the rocoto meant to be a garnish? It certainly added to the visual presentation. After the initial jolt to the palate, however, I noticed that I was once again ready to return to the dish. My next bite was almost as if it were the first. The rocoto had not so much cleansed my palate as much as it had reset it, allowing me the delight of experiencing the dish anew. Knowing this now, I wish I had spaced these two pieces of rocoto in a more calculated manner. It is rare that a meal harmonizes itself. This dish did just that.
If you are in Lima, this is a must among a long list of musts. Lima continues to make it difficult to decide what dining experience to choose on any given night. Xoma is yet another excellent option.