After long days on Trump and trade, APEC crowds hungry for ceviche
It’s 10:00 pm and police cars with sirens blazing are lined up outside Astrid y Gaston, a trendy restaurant in an upscale neighborhood of Lima, Peru.
As stern-looking bodyguards in dark suits stand watch, contented-looking Thai government staffers stream out of the restaurant and are whisked away in a formidable motorcade.
In the Peruvian capital, where a Who’s Who of movers and shakers has descended for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, helicopters have sometimes hovered overhead, depending on who’s eating at the foodie hotspot, named by Restaurant magazine as one of the best in the world.
With its fusion-fueled cuisine, Lima has one of the planet’s hottest restaurant scenes — making up for the sprawling megacity’s lack of the laid-back resort charm that is usually the draw card at APEC host venues.
Peruvian cuisine is a celebration of the country’s history and biodiversity.
Recipes have their roots around the world in this nation of immigrants where ingredients come from everywhere from the Amazon rainforest to the Andes mountains.
There were similar scenes a year ago when the G20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank held get-togethers here — mega-events attracting not just world leaders but thousands of aides, officials, businesspeople, journalists and assorted hangers-on.
Astrid y Gaston has hosted heads of state, chief executives and their entourages all week.
The management is hoping US President Barack Obama will stop by for the last dinner of his final overseas tour — but the White House keeps his reservations a tightly guarded secret.
The competition is also tough: Lima has three spots on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. And even unsung restaurants tend to serve amazing food in this country where eating is a national passion.
– Dinner breaks –
At a summit upended by the shock victory of US President-elect Donald Trump — whose volatile style has thrown world affairs into uncertainty — leaders seem to welcome the chance to take a dinner break and hit the Lima foodie circuit.
After long days strategizing on how to save their cherished free-trade deals from the populist, anti-globalization, America-first wave that Trump rode into office, the APEC delegations at least get to eat well.
Obama told a town hall of Latin American students how much he enjoyed a meal of “pollo a la brasa” — a succulent rotisserie chicken dish for which Peru is famous.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a picture on Facebook of the “cozy, informal” spot where he and his staff went one night during the summit — Canta Rana, a beloved dive in the hipster neighborhood of Barranco.
Masato Ohtaka, a deputy press secretary for Japan, beamed as he told reporters about discovering Japanese-Peruvian cuisine at Hanzo, a swanky restaurant with a South American twist on dishes brought over by Peru’s large Japanese immigrant community.
He said he was pleasantly surprised to discover Japanese sashimi made as Peruvian ceviche, a refreshing dish of raw fish marinated in lime.
“It was different from what I was expecting,” he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping even gave a nod to one of Peru’s favorite foods in his keynote address at the summit.
“I particularly enjoy the sweet potatoes here,” he said.
– Ceviche ‘noble but simple’ –
Inside Astrid y Gaston hip young diners snap selfies with their artistically presented entrees and sip on pisco sours, the country’s dangerously delicious cocktail — a mix of pisco (grape brandy), lime, egg whites and sugar.
The 300-year-old colonial house in which the restaurant is located has been updated with chic, offbeat decor — playful paintings, a glassed-in kitchen and potted plants hanging upside-down from the ceiling.
The restaurant’s star dishes are haute-cuisine takes on Peruvian classics like ceviche and lomo saltado, a tender beef stir fry.
Head chef Gaston Acurio’s ceviche is served in a spicy, tangy, milky sauce, and his lomo saltado is impossibly buttery — so soft you can cut it with a spoon.
“For group reservations, ceviche is the top star,” said the restaurant’s manager, Carlos Franco, a jovial 30-year-old whose enthusiasm for food is palpable.
“Why do people like it? Because ceviche is noble but simple, loaded with tradition,” he told AFP.