Tea – Chamomile, Mandarin, Wild Honey
Rock Mollscs – Sea Snail, Mussel, Sargassum, Limpet
Desert Plants – Huarango, Cactus, Sweet Potato Leaf, Loche
Lofty Andes – Potato, Tree Tomato, Alpaca Heart, Muna Mint
Thick Stems – Olluco, Chincho, Onion, Field Mustard
Waters of Nanay – Piranhas, Cocona, Achiote, Huampo Bark
Forest Cotton – River Shrimp, Llanten, Huito, Pacea
High Jungle – Macambo, Cassava, Copoazu, Air Potato, Smoked Butter, Cacao
Marine Soil – Sea Urchin, Pepino Melon, Razor Clam, Seaweed
Tree Points – Avocado, Kiwicha, Arracacha, Lake Algae
Land of Corn – Kculli, Purple, Chulpi, Piscorunto
Amazonian Plain – Churo, Cecina, Black Chili Pepper, Bellaco
Coastal Harvest – Scallops, Yellow Chili Pepper, Milk, Tumbo
Sea Coral – Octopus, Crab, Squid, Sea Lettuce
High Andes Mountains – Pork Belly, Yellow Mashwa, Kaniwa
Humid Green – Caigua, Cushuro, Sweet Lemon, Chaco Clay
Amazonian White – Cacao, Chirimoya, Bahuaja Nut, Taperiba
Medicinals and Plant Dyes – Congona, Matico, Malva, Pilipili
With the recent promotion of Maido to Latin America’s “Best” Restaurant on a certain list one had to wonder if Virgilio Martínez’s time spent opening MIL had somehow impacted Central, but if a birthday lunch on March 10th was any indication diners have nothing to fear as seventeen courses served over three hours spoke of a kitchen that remains confident, creative and committed to their vision.
Now celebrating ten years in Miraflores and toqued by Martinez and his wife Pia León, a two-story space of glass, wood and stone giving the room an airy feel matching a menu built to explore Peru’s Flora and Fauna by elevation, diners entering Central are quickly led to tables dressed in natural linen where a brief introduction awaits, bottled Water quickly poured with an expansive Beverage list also available.
Still a young man with much to say, Martinez’s involvement with a project titled Mater Iniciativa an intriguing aspect of both Central and MIL that intends to better understand Peru’s biodiversity, it is from a selection of ingredients ranging from the Sea to Mountains that guests are fed and beginning ten meters down the tone is set early by way of chopped Sea Snails and Mussels intended to be spread on a large green Cracker not dissimilar to a “Shrimp Chip.”
Fairly confident that even the most well-traveled gastronome will encounter novel ingredients across the journey, each course thus presented with a lengthy description and occasional warnings of what is – and is not – edible, course two presented Chef León’s interpretation of Desert Plants in the form of Fritters, Chips and Juice, the later vibrant with acid and a poignant lead-in to “Lofty Andes” that asks guests to dip a small wrinkled Potato into intense Mint Dip given a touch of funk by cured and shaved Alpaca Heart.
Not used to such bold flavors so early, the kitchen smartly pumping the brakes with a creamy tuber called Olluco wrapped in a crispy nest next to shaved pieces enlivened by Onion it was shortly thereafter that Martinez’s Instagram-ready “Waters of Nanay” arrived complete with frozen faces supporting Piranha Skin and Flesh plus a side of nibbles stuffed with Tartare.
Temporarily veering sweet with Shrimp and Berries plus a cottony textured sphere it was at course seven that the kitchen sent forth a “Bread” plate including three choices, the pulp of Cacao offered as one spread with Butter imbued with ash the other.
Varying the pace to each table’s liking, no excessive delays but also never rushed, Marine Soil proved to be a challenge for those who do not like Uni while others found its position to Melon mesmerizing, the Tree Points and Land of Corn served next both textural explorations with the former saline and the later more or less the best Creamed Corn imaginable beneath a veil of Tortillas and fractured Corn Nuts.
Trekking back to the Amazon for Giant Snails concealed by Foam, the “Coastal Harvest” to follow essentially Central’s Ceviche of Scallops with a distinct Passionfruit flavor balanced by Chiles, it was the penultimate dish called Sea Coral that proved to be the afternoon’s best by way of Seafood Stew amidst textures of Kelp, though the supple Pork with milky Quinoa and fried Mashwa was certainly not a bad follow-up.
At this point turning the final three courses over to pastry Chef Annia Ortiz, a Cucumber-sque Panna Cotta beneath sour Ice refreshing the palate before a dish that tastes like an Apple Dumpling exploded on the plate with Mangoes, it was in Mignardises titled “Medicinals and Plant Dyes” that the afternoon came to a finish, a take-home gift of dried paper imprinted with ingredients and notes further enforcing Martinez and León’s desire to not just feed, but also to educate and inspire.