Flavors of Peru, Santiago’s second cuisine: Astoria

This is Chile looks at fine Peruvian dining in the nation’s capital. Today is Astoria, one of the newest additions to the scene and recognized by many as the best new restaurant of 2010.

Thursday, April 14, 2011 Category: Restaurants
 Gómez draws inspiration from the Peruvian culinary landscape. Gómez draws inspiration from the Peruvian culinary landscape.

-El Chalán: where homey picada cooking meets top notch ingredients.

Though Chef Oscar Gómez deploys expert and decidedly mature technique in his kitchen, there is no mistaking his ten-month-old Astoria for anything but the young, exciting restaurant that it is.

After 16 years with Astrid y Gastón, whose branches around the world have made it a veritable state department of Peruvian high cuisine, Gómez struck out on his own in June 2010 for the first time, garnering his new project several notices in the Chilean press, including El Mercurio, as the year’s best new restaurant.

Coast, mountains, forests
“We’re trying to create a Peruvian food that combines all of the country’s influences,” Goméz told us. He draws inspiration from the Peruvian culinary landscape and told us that the national cuisine can be divided into three regions – costa, cordillera, selva (coast, mountains, forest).

A tiradito de palometa con erizo, slender slices of sweet raw fish laid beneath brilliant orange pads of briny sea urchin in leche de tigre with mild red pepper, started us off. This was followed by a gorgeous ceviche mixto, made with glossy cubes of Chilean salmon, followed by a causa de cochinillo – a fatty, flavorful piece of pork – over sweet potatoes in a sauce made from a mild, minty herb native to the Peruvian cordillera.
The next dishes strayed from the traditional Peruvian palate into the creole cuisines introduced by the country’s immigrant populations. A dish of grilled octopus with yucca and spinach was drizzled in a sauce of spicy ají panca and rice vinegar. A single duck ravioli in salsa escabecha was delicious, though the most removed from Peruvian tradition. A whole Turbot followed in a sauce of basil, soy sauce, sesame and ginger.
The meal closed by going back to Peruvian basics with lomo saltado – the dish of beef, tomatoes and onions stir-fried in soy sauce. A pitch perfect panna cotta with currants in its creamy interior was the highlight among the deserts.

An open kitchen
Astoria’s spirit is one of transparency, unusual in restaurants of this level. The waiting staff explain the dishes and the history of ingredients, even bringing out examples of fresh herbs and individual dishes of sauces from the kitchen. This warm, informed, and informative approach to service reflects Gómez’s personal interest in the dispersion of Peruvian food through education.
“Before there weren’t means of studying Peruvian cooking,” Gómez said, “but now we are in a revolutionary moment for Peruvian food.” The opening of culinary institutes in major Peruvian cities, and a growing awareness of the national cuisine overseas, is inspiring young chefs. The five years Gómez spent at the original Lima Astrid y Gastón placed him at the heart of this change, and when he arrived in Chile with the restaurant’s Santiago branch, he became an ambassador of Peruvian haute cuisine.
Now, Gómez and his staff do their best to continue this tradition by working with kids around Santiago, teaching them the basics of cooking and helping them to understand the kitchen a viable locus for a successful career. “There has always been a perspective that cooking is only for women,” he says, “but education is starting to change that.”
“We’re very proud to share our culture with the rest of Santiago,” Gómez says. Astoria’s achievement is in sharing that culture by demonstrating its complexity rather than reducing it to a handful of familiar dishes. This allows the restaurant to capture the ambition, excitement and change that define Peru – indeed, all of Latin America – today.
To contact Astoria
Americo de Vespucio Sur 1902
Las Condes, Santiago
+56 (02) 981 3411