The First Taste of Lima, Peru
When I informed my friend Luis I’d be traveling to his city to explore the finer points of Peruvian cuisine, he dispensed two essential words of culinary wisdom: lomo saltado. Not only is this flavorful tenderloin creation a Peruvian staple, it is Luis’ favorite dish of all time. I have to admit, it’s really exciting for me when other people are passionate about their food! I was due to arrive in Lima on a Friday night. Dinner plans defaulted to Luis, who promised to deliver the best lomo saltado experience in town, at the restaurant/lounge Picas.
Upon landing, we headed past downtown Lima and cruised along the Pacific cliffs to the seaside district of Barranco. The municipality of Barranco is trendy with a hip, art-town vibe, in other words the place to be in Lima on a Friday night. The nightlife is as diverse as the colonial-meets-industrial architecture of the bars, restaurants and clubs. The entrance to Picas lies directly below the iconic Puente de los Sospiros or “Bridge of Sighs.” A gated courtyard, filled with revelers, leads to a swank dual-level restaurant and lounge. Backlit bar areas illuminate the sleek, deliberately dark interior. Almost every table is occupied, by stylish diners noshing to pulsing groove beats.
Jumping straight from an eight-hour flight into a late night dinner can be somewhat surreal. I toasted to the evening, and took that first delicious sip of my first authentic pisco sour. It was a slightly-jetlagged moment of pure happiness. Luis took charge, perused the menu, and suggested we start with the croquetas a la huancaina. He explained that the croquetas were fried mashed potato balls stuffed with Parmesan cheese and bacon, smothered in a typical Peruvian sauce. All it took for me was hearing “bacon,” and I was totally on board.
Though the croquetas themselves were sinfully exquisite, the huancaina sauce was like discovering a gold mine. As someone who spends a lot of time sampling global cuisine, it’s rare that I come across a totally new flavor. Both creamy and citrusy, the thick, yellow sauce is prepared with farmer’s cheese, evaporated milk, and yellow chili peppers (ají amarillo.) The dish is positively addictive.
After devouring two plates of croquetas a la huancaina, it was time to experience Luis’ great pièce de résistance. Lomo saltado is a traditional Peruvian dish with chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) influence. Essentially, it’s a South American stir-fry. Beef tenderloin is deeply marinated in a variety of ingredients, which may include soy sauce, wine, vinegar or lime juice, as well as a number of spices. The meat is cooked in a wok with peppers, onions and tomatoes. At Picas, the lomo saltado is served traditionally, with crispy hand-cut fries and topped with a single, runny, fried egg. The combination is truly exceptional.
The slogan at Picas is “todos los sentidos,” which translates to “all of the senses.” As we made our way outside after 1:00AM, the restaurant was still packed with no sign of slowing down. Picas is successful in creating an enchanting, multi-sensory dining experience. It’s the perfect starting point for any Peruvian culinary adventure.
Picas is located at: Bajada de Baños 340, Barranco
2010 Mileage total: 25061