Once, in a conversation with Buenos Aires Herald restaurant critic Dereck Foster, I told him that I sometimes liked to get takeaway sushi for dinner. Dereck, an Anglo-Argentine who’s been doing this for well over half a century, needled me with the admonition that sushi should always been fresh, so I had to explain myself in greater detail.
To get my sushi, I went to a wonderful restaurant called Libélula, barely a block from home. Libélula, which later moved and has since closed, was in fact a pioneer Peruvian restaurant, but it had an extensive sushi menu that owed its origins to a small but influential wave of Japanese immigration to Perú  that began in 1899 (though most Peruvians might like to forget the corrupt and dictatorial presidency of Alberto Fujimori . It’s worth adding that Argentina has its own history of Japanese immigration, most visible in and around the Buenos Aires suburb of Belén de Escobar , known as the Capital Nacional de la Flor (National Flower Capital), partly because of the Japanese horticultural tradition.
In any event, at Libélula, I would take a seat at the bar and nurse a pisco sour while the sushi chef – of clear Japanese descent – prepared my dinner. Then, when all was ready, I would pay the bill, tip the bartender, and stroll home to a solitary sushifest before sitting down at the computer to update the day’s information to the new edition of Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires. In doing so, I saved both money and time.
Libélula is sadly gone, but Peruvian cuisine – perhaps the most diverse and flavorful on the entire South American continent - is flourishing in the city. It ranges from plain and inexpensive eateries such as Monserrat’s Status , which gets a largely Peruvian crowd, to upscale Palermo restaurants such as Bardot  and some truly elite options. The truly elite option is Astrid & Gastón , which opened in our neighborhood shortly after Libélula closed.
In reality, Astrid & Gastón is now a small empire of restaurants that started in Lima with now celebrity chef Gastón Acurio and his wife Astrid. It’s since expanded to several other Latin American capitals, including Santiago and Mexico City, and even Madrid, without losing its flavors and elegance. I’ve been to the Buenos Aires locale only once, for a brief lunch, but my wife María Laura went for dinner with a friend last week to enjoy dishes such as cebiche con leche de pantera (ceviche with squid ink, pictured above), a flavorful mix that includes fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, sweet potato and red onions. That was a starter, while the main dishes included arroz con pato (braised duck and rice) and pescado con salsa huacatay (catch of the day, with a sweet and sour sauce). For the two of them, with appetizers, pisco sours and wine, it came to around US$150, so this is not a budget choice.
Sadly, Peruvian food has not made a great impact in the United States. A couple weeks ago we heard of a new Peruvian place that opened in Berkeley but, on arrival, we learned that it specialized in barbecue chicken (which, though it’s popular in in Peru, was not the seafood or ají de gallina  we’d been hoping for). On the other hand, Acurio has opened up a separate gourmet chain called La Mar Cebichería Peruana , which has branches in New York and San Francisco, so diners in those cities can get sample gourmet Peruvian food, focused on fish, ceviche and sushi. We’ve not gone there yet, but we do enjoy San Francisco’s Destino .
Even in other South American countries, Peruvian food doesn’t make it much outside the capital cities. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen it in Uruguay, but it’s a bit more prevalent in Chile, which has seen substantial Peruvian immigration over the past decades. That’s a topic for another day, though.
Tango by the River
As announced the other day, there’s been a postponement of my digital slide lecture on Buenos Aires  at Tango by the River  in Sacramento, which will now take place Friday, October 26th, at 6 p.m.
Limited to a maximum of 50 people, the event will also include tango performances; admission costs $10 at the door, or $8 in advance. I have spoken here several times before, and we always sell out, so plan in advance. Signed copies of my Moon Handbooks on Argentina , Buenos Aires, Chile  and Patagonia  will be available at discount prices.