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Monday, October 24, 2011

Astrid & Gaston

Did the loveable yet geeky supporting actress from Fringe and the pompous loverboy from Beauty & the Beast get together and create a Peruvian restaurant?  I wish.  But this combination works out even better, and it makes a much nicer love story.  According to their website, this pair was in school, him to study law and her to study medicine, when their passion for food and Paris took over and they both quit school to become chefs.  Eventually, he convinced her (a blond German) to follow him to Peru where they opened their first restaurant, and the rest is history.  The website leaves out who is Astrid and who is Gaston, but I am still envisioning the girl from Fringe and the cartoon Gaston, so I'll just leave it at that. 

Astrid & Gaston (Lafinur 3222, Palermo: 4802-2991) was a recommendation from one of our friends that has very high standards for restaurants, so when it was where she spent her birthday, we knew we needed to try it.  The setting is beautiful, an old converted mansion that offers intimate rooms complete with only 10-12 tables per room, making you feel that you are in a much smaller place.  As we entered the restaurant we passed by the expo line and were able to see into the kitchen which told me two things; 1) I was going to like almost anything they served, the food all looked amazing, and 2) This was the most organized expo line I had ever seen.  Quiet. Clean. Civil.  Quite different from my restaurant days where this area was a free-for-all of yelling and mildly organized chaos.  So far, this place was batting a thousand. 

We followed the hostess up a very steep and windy set of stairs and were seated in a room with heavy red velvet curtains where there were only a handful of other people seated (this was a Saturday night at 9:30pm).  Our server was pleasant, helpful and patient as we asked him about dishes on the menu and asked that he define Spanish words that we had never encountered.  After all was said and done, we should have closed our menus and let him order for us, we followed (almost) all of his recommendations. 

We started with a ceviche appetizer, actually we got the sampler so it was more like 3 ceviche appetizers.  The flavors were great, crisp, fresh and flavorful - though this was not our favorite course.  There was nothing wrong with the dish, it just so happened to bring out some food weirdnesses in both Jon and I.  The fish was presented in large cubes, which kind of weirds me out, I'm used to a smaller dice (crazy, I know) and Jon has some sort of biological dislike for cilantro, which is obviously in almost every ceviche dish out there. 

 I ordered Salmón Blanco con Arroz Arvejado (I think, again, I just took the waiter's word for it), pictured below, and it was outstanding.  It was a piece of white salmon served on a bed of risotto-style rice and surrounded by all sorts of goodies; shittake mushrooms, scallions, shrimp, caramelized onions, and delicious sauce. 

 Jon went the meat route, he ordered the lamb served two ways (Cordero Dos Cocciones), each way supplemented with a different style side.  The more tender lomo had a creamy mashed potato-style side and the other cut (piled high in the photo) was served over a potato lasagna.  Both were delicious. 

I should mention that my friend's recommendation came with the advice that we needed to order the cabrito, baby goat.  We couldn't do it.  It's the kind of thing that I want someone else to order and then I take a bite so that I can say I tried it.  Maybe I'll like it, but we only get out every once in a while these days, so I can't risk it. 

I'm conflicted about the dessert.  There were a number of good-looking options, including a sampler, but we decided to go with our gut and order the chocolate option.  It was good, the raspberry compote was really tasty and the chocolate was really good quality, but the heart of the dessert was a chocolate ball filled with "creme brulee foam" which basically disintegrated when the waiter poured the warm chocolate sauce on top.  I think this would have worked better with a high quality vanilla ice cream in the center.  Or gelato.  Or partner with Arkakao and add one of their flavors to the middle. It was good, it just wasn't as impressive as the rest of the meal. 

This was a great date night out.  It is a date night though, the prices at Astrid & Gaston warrant a special occasion meal, and though they are worth it - they're probably not worth it every week. 

Additionally, this was the first time we were able to use Restorando.com to make our reservation and it worked like a charm.  We were able to make the reservation, and immediately after the confirmation stage we received an email AND a text message confirming the reservation.  Perfect.  And perfect for the non-native Spanish speaker that fears the telephone.  Fear no more - Restorando.com is here for you. 

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