Astrid y Gaston

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In a Nutshell

Astrid y Gastón in Lima is arguably the finest restaurant in Latin America. But A&G in Bogotá was a huge disappointment. Barely average!

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A mere six days ago I dined at Astrid y Gastón in Lima. It was an outstanding meal in one of the most beautiful restaurants in Latin America. The building, the ambiance, the food and service were outstanding.

It is difficult for me to even fathom how that restaurant and the one in Bogatá are even remotely related to each other. My meal in Bogotá was a huge disappointment.

For starters, the décor is dated, dismal and somewhat depressing. The images in the slider say it better than I can.

The food was equally disappointing.

I ordered the Cochinillo Pekín (Peking pork tacos). The pork was prepared with spices like what is used in the preparation of the Chinese classic Peking duck. There was a sweet, crisp layer of skin as there would be with the classic duck dish. The flavors were fantastic. But the small strip of pork was slightly dry. This dish would have benefitted from a thin slice of the rendered fatty portion of the pork belly. It was good. But it could have been great and wasn’t.

For the main course, I ordered the Pesca Tausi, expecting to get some flaky, white-fleshed fish, like the corvina I was served at Rafael a couple of days earlier. What I was served was average-quality, farm-raised salmon, the most overused fish in the world. A small flavorless bowl of cold rice was served on the side. The sauce and garnishes on the fish were delicious. But if you use overused, low-quality ingredients, it should be no surprise you’re going to get an average dish at best. The flavors, and the fact that this substandard piece of fish was cooked as perfectly as is possible, including the sear, saved this dish, barely.

My take on salmon for upscale dining? If you’re going to use salmon, use line-caught product and fly it in from Alaska or Canada, in season. Otherwise, leave it off the menu.

Even though these two savory dishes had faults, the flavors and execution were sufficient to make them enjoyable.

I wish I could say the same for the dessert. This course was a mess. A total failure. And quite honestly, I fear that everything on the dessert menu would fall short. What a contrast to the brilliant dessert menu in Lima!

To preface my rant, let me briefly explain what a Suspiro Limeño is. It is a mousse-like mixture of manjar blanco, which is basically sweetened condensed milk or cream that is slowly cooked. The longer it is cooked, it develops a caramel color. A Suspiro Limeño uses manjar blanco, to which whipped egg yolks and flavoring (typically vanilla) are added to create a light mousse-like substance. It’s chilled and served in a small glass, bowl or parfait glass. It’s topped with a light soft French merengue.

I ordered what I believed would be a minor variation of this dish. On the menu, it is called a Suspiro Loco. The description of the ingredients included manjar blanco and the addition of some berries. What arrived, as you can see in the image slider, was a layered dessert (called a Napoleon in pastry-chef jargon) the primary ingredient of which was a modified, crisp baked-merengue, with the manjar blanco as a filling in middle layer. This is nothing close to a Peruvian Suspiro. The words merengue, baked, nor Napoleon were included in the description on the menu. When the dish arrived, I dropped my jaw.

I attempted to cut into the merengue to just confirm that it was, in fact, a baked merengue, and the manjar filling oozed out the side. The fork couldn’t even cut through the merengue. So not only was the dessert not what was described, but it was a lousy rendition of what was intended.

When I explained the error, the waiter had the audacity to argue with me. When my objection began to reach the level of annoyance, I was offered an alternative.

What I received was possibly just as bad as the one I sent back. It was described as an anise-flavored pastry topped with fruit. What arrived was a crisp flavorless paper-thin pastry on which a variety of mismatched fruit, including unripe strawberries and overcooked bananas was piled. The cinnamon sorbet was the only enjoyable part of the dish. The sugar tuile on top was like sweet, hard plastic. This wasn’t a dessert. It was a disgrace. I’d have rather had a soft-serve cone at McDonald’s.

Service was tolerable, but lackluster. None of the staff spoke English and appeared to know nothing about the ingredients in the dishes. Was my experience an anomaly? Not likely. At 9 pm on a Saturday night there were only three tables occupied in the restaurant. By 10 pm the only people in the building were me and the staff.

About the only redeeming element of this experience was that making the reservation was easy and the menu with prices was posted on the restaurant’s website, thus the high score for logistics.

My advice? If you’re in Lima or Mexico City, don’t miss Astrid y Gastón. In Bogotá, walk down the street to Rafael. It’s what Astrid y Gastón in Bogotá should be.

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