Growing up, did you ever play the game called “Four Truths & A Lie?” No? Well, that’s fine, because we’re going to play now, and then you can finally say you did. You can probably guess by the title of this article that I did, in fact, dine at the #5 restaurant in the world, Central, in Lima, Peru. Not fake news. Now, you get to spot the lie about my dining experience. Here we go.
- I ate a 17-course, seafood-heavy pairing menu that included piranha. (Keep in mind, I don’t eat seafood.)
- Half the menu was paired (well) with wine, equaling about three glasses and delivering a steady buzz.
- Central serves an altitude-based menu, allowing you to connect with the environment differently.
- I met the chef, Virgilio Martinez, and he thought I was a celebrity.
- I tried all of the seafood courses and will still hard pass on scallops, shrimp and sea urchin – every time. (Those courses may or may not have needed a wine chaser to make their way down.)
Okay, first of all, the game is called “Two Truths & A Lie,” but the game was still fun, if even just for me. Secondly, the entire menu had pairings, wine and otherwise, and no one left the table only having had three glasses – or sober for that matter. (Three glasses is an easy round down.)
Leading up to the experience, I was freaking out. I can’t tell you how many times I went back and forth on whether or not I should have the vegetarian menu or the standard menu experience. Sheer lunacy was kicking in, and all I could think about was, “What if I make the wrong choice, hate it and blow $300 when I could’ve just gone vegetarian?” Let me be clear, this was not a cheap meal.
Now, I’m pretty sure there are very few people that love pairing menus as much as I do (try me), and I am a believer that if you’re going to get the real experience, it is the one in which the chef has hand designed and artfully created with purpose. The menu is meant to be an experience. So….experience. I made my decision, walked into the restaurant calm, graceful and ready for sea. Errr….well, the seafood version of the evening, anyway.
The Central Concept
According to a well-written article about another traveler’s dining experience at Central, he sums up the menu concept eloquently and as follows: “The menu is organized by elevation. Peru is a country of vast biodiversity, and Central’s menu celebrates that by offering a tour of those regions on its menu. Beyond being delicious, dishes at Central exist to demonstrate regions of Peru through ingredient choice and presentation.” Furthermore, if you need a good visual to pair with this article, be sure to check out the Central episode of Chef’s Table (Season 3, Episode 6) on Netflix. It’s quite fascinating.
The Seventeen Course Feast
While most of you were sitting down for a two, three, maybe even a four-course meal for dinner that evening, I was sitting down for seventeen. And, while we were being seated, I was offered two pieces of unsolicited advice from the table:
- Change your mindset, change your life. (However, I’m not sure that my menu choice for the evening will in any way create pivotal moments, breakthroughs or epiphanies. Well, except for the time I attempted scorpions that made me question my decision-making abilities.)
- “Fix your face,” said one of my foodie friends, which must have been in response to my severe reaction when the first course, snails, was brought out. (Dually noted to be straightfaced and brave moving forward. This was only course #1.)
The first six or so courses are designed for you to eat with your hands. You could tell the first alcohol pairings had kicked in at the table when one from our party was cheeky enough to ask the chef whether or not utensils were restricted in his house growing up. Hence, the finger foods. (For the record, Virgilio was very kind and, yes, he did think I had a TV show.) Virgilio made his way to our table a few times to strike up conversation and gauge how we were enjoying our experience. It’s clear that Central takes pride in its work, which is reflected in everything from the table presentation to the science of the menu and, finally, the course pairings.
Each course was carefully crafted and beautifully presented. Still most of the time, I had no idea what the hell I was eating – but it was good. There were indeed a few moments for pause after our course was presented to the table. “I’m sorry, you said I’m eating volcanic clay and probiotics for dessert?”
Creativity Comes in the Form Of Food
There were moments when I wasn’t exactly sure what was edible and what wasn’t. (Of course, ask and you shall be told.) Case in point: there were a few rocks and a sponge or two that showed up on the table, also an alpaca heart. (Hey, the country eats guinea pig, so you can’t judge me for being unsure where food boundaries lie, especially in other countries.) None the less, the menu offered a beyond enjoyable dining experience, with many memorable courses. (Cue the highlights!)
Fish Friendly for Life?
Hell no. Sorry, what I should have said is I made significant strides in the way of seafood. Now, will I be ordering a plate of fish, ceviche or piranha anytime soon? Probably not, but it’s good to know that I’ve hurdled some mental food allergies. This experience was, by far, one to not pass up, if for no better reason than the methodology and science behind the menu. Kudos to Virgilio and team for their well earned #5 spot on 2017’s World’s Best Restaurants list!
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