Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Birthday lunch: Malabar

Monday was my birthday, and fortunately I was feeling human enough to start going out and doing stuff.   So, Liz, Nico, Diego, Sara and I went out to lunch.   It being my choice, I opted for Malabar, a restaurant I had been curious about for a while.

Malabar's cuisine is a bit hard to pigeonhole.   It is definitely in the vein of Novo Andina cuisine in fusing culinary academy -basically French, I guess- techniques and aesthetics with native ingredients and flavor.  In contrast to Novo Andina, which focuses on Andean and criollo ingredients and dishes, Malabar's chef has turned to Peru's Amazon hinterland for inspiration.   Consequently, the menu abounds with jungle fishes and fruits.

Part of what puts Malabar consistently at the top of Lima's restaurant lists is the quality of the experience.   The chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, remains present and in charge of his restaurant.  In fact, he greeted us as we walked in.  The place itself is discreetly set into the ground floor of an office tower in San Isidro.  The windows are opaque and plain.   Inside, however, is a white-tablecloth restaurant decorated in a mix of jungle-like elements (stuffed impala heads over the bar), a collection of antique glass in a corner cabinet, and a large painting of a pair of swimmers clad only in swim caps. 

The food was very good indeed (although most Peruvians might complain that the servings are a too small).  Diego ordered a "dry soup" of shrimp, which was essentially a rissotto with an intense flavor of a classic Peruvian shrimp stew, chupe de camarones.   Nico had a rice and bean dish (tacu tacu) topped with a sautee of vegetables and seafood, which he declared excellent.  In fact he barely talked as he ate it!

Liz, on the recommendation of the waiter, selected a beef medallion with glazed vegetables. It was good, and tender as described, but she said she found a bit ordinary.

My selection, an inchi capi of paiche was perhaps the most interesting and surprising dish at our table.   Inchi capi is an Amazonian soup, usually made with chicken and thickened with corn meal and featuring yuca.  In Schiaffino's reinvention, the soup is a thin but intensely-flavored broth.   The corn shows up as crust on the serving of paiche, a large jungle fish, and the yuca as a tapioca topping on the fish and which adds texture to the broth as it is mixed in.

 Other notable dishes were some river snails and mushrooms atop a palmito puree and topped with shredded chonta palm, and a tiradito colored with ayrampo, a small cactus fruit long used as a colorant in the Andes.

Malabar is a very good restaurant and deserving of its reputation.  However, it is expensive and thus not a casually-made selection.   I don't know that I'd return, just on that account, but I enjoyed myself a lot and am glad to have tried it.

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