Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to Puro Peru

On the Monday before my return to the US, Willy and Elba treated me to lunch at a spot I hadn't been to in some years: the Puro Peru buffet in Barranco.

In the US, all-you-can-eat buffet lunch establishments tend to specialize in "home-style" "comfort foods".  In Lima, they do as well, but Peruvian food can be a far cry from the macaroni-and-cheese and baked chicken that are buffet staples here.  Thus, whereas buffets in the US tend to get a bad rap, in Lima they are often much appreciated for the variety and quality of the food; and, among them, Puro Peru is a stand-out.

The place has its origins, I am told, in another buffet establishment -the Hawaii- which used to be located in Chorrillos.   It seems that the partnership that built the place did not prosper and partners split up.  

One partner left and established Puro Peru in Barranco, where he had the advantage of being more accessible to diners from Central Lima. (The other, closed Hawaii and move it to an old cockfight ring in Barranco, and even closer to central Lima than Puro Peru.  To attract even more customers they offered free beer with lunch.  That place has now closed, and the Hawaii has moved to a more central, and accessible location in Barranco.)

Of course, it wasn't simply location that attracted customers to Puro Peru, but the better ambiance, great service, and even better and more varied foods offered. 

Willy likes to tell of a time that he took several foreign business contacts -high-ups in the institution he worked at- to Puro Peru.  One of them, it turns out, was aHindu of Indian descent and vegetarian.  Willy was worried about finding him suitable fare, but he needn't have worried.  As Willy was talking to the waiter about it, the fellow returned to the table, beaming over a pile of vegetables, fruits, and salads that he had gleaned from the various stations.  On the way out of Puro Peru all three visitors -the vegetarian included- thanked Willy profusely for taking them there as, they said, in all their travels on business they had never and nowhere eaten so well, with such variety and quality, as they just had.

There is a salad bar, a dessert station, a grilling station where meats and sausages are cooked as you ask for them.  There is also a sushi station -which is very popular-, a full cocktail bar -for those indispensable pisco sours!

There is a station offering Peruvian staples such as rice, chicharrones, beans, and stews.

Chicharrones (pork fried in its own fat)

Rocoto relleno (meat-stuffed hot peppers)

Another nice touch is that Puro Peru also has a station where the staff will prepare dishes to order - pasta, lomo saltado, chow mein, Chinese fried rice, sautees, and more.

Of course, the star of the place is the seafood station, which offers raw and cooked fish and shellfish dishes, and a variety of cebiches.

Chita a la meuniere
Cebiche with yellow hot pepper sauce
Mixed seafood cebiche

Honestly, I could spend all day just at the seafood bar if I had to, without uttering a single word of complaint.

I am specially fond of those scallops!  Live scallops are awfully hard to come by in the US, and we never get served scallops up here with the roe still attached.   These guys are so fresh that they taste of the sea!

The raw bar, offering scallops on the half-shell

I enjoyed a number of them, even though a couple of years ago I got horribly sick quite likely from eating one at the vastly inferior buffet at the Rustica restaurant on the Costa Verde, which led, about ten hours later, to projectile vomiting and me lying on the cold tile floor of the bathroom while my abdominal muscles uncramped.  (I'll never eat at a Rustica again, if I can avoid it.  They aren't known for quality anyway.)

In the middle of the meal at Puro Peru I had to disappear into the bathroom for a long time.  A while ago I had bought a new belt, and it was the only one that I brought along for the trip.  It turns out that the belt isn't leather, but is synthethic with some sort of closed-cell foam inside.  The buckle I have on it has some little teeth that dig into and grip the belt material (it's meant so that it can be removed or reversed).  Over time -like a week!- the foam material, however, gives way, the teeth rip out of the foam, and the belt comes apart.  Well, that happened at the restaurant when I sat down with my camera in my pocket.  With a pocket knife or scissors and a hammer it its easy enough to fix, but I had none of those available to me there, so I had to fiddle with it for a while before I could get it to grip and stay.

I had told Willy and Elba the Rustica scallop story and they grew concerned as the minutes ticked by and I didn't return from the bathroom.   They feared I had gotten sick again from eating scallops.  We all got a good laugh when I told them what the issue had really been -even though theirs was tinged with relief, and mine with embarrassment (and the fear that the belt would give out again when I had my hands full and my pants would drop in the middle of the restaurant!)

It had been several years since I had eaten at Puro Peru.  I think that the last time I was there it was with my mom, so that tells you how long ago that was.

Mom was really impressed with the place, and never hesitated to recommend it to people planning to visit Lima.  She said that there one could a really good idea of what Peruvian food was about, and "get so much delicious food in one place".     I don't think that she'd have been disappointed if she'd been along on this visit.

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