Refugio de Santiago Huerto Andino y Restaurante- An exquisite Novo Andino refuge at one of Peru's most fertile valley, Lunahuana
Tiradito de Trucha Marinada al Hinojo- smoked trout salad in dill vinaigrette
One long weekend holiday we set off to get to know more of Peru, to a quite popular region along the Central Valley, known for its river rafting activities and Cray fish. With a little research and information from office mates who had been there, we went to visit Lunahuana. Located 112 miles, 2.15 hours by car from Lima, through the dessert dunes of the South Pan American Highway, turning east at Cañete, along the road towards the town of Imperial, we reach the verdant Lunahuana valley.
With pre-booked arrangements, we checked into Refugio de Santiago, a Republican era restored house owned by affable and Andean produce innovator, Fernando Briceño. He moved to Lunahuana to start an honest-to-goodness rural tourism, and for which he is working to recover the archaeological, geographical, gastronomic and anthropological wealth of the region. For this he developed the Huerto Andino (Andean orchard-farm) where he has 90 fruit varieties, 300 medicinal plants, 17 pre Hispanic vegetables, 12 “magical” plants, 50 aromatic culinary herbs, among other unusual plants and trees of the world. With this base, he manages the Restaurant with his wife, Silvana, offering exquisite Novo Andino cuisine, but with ancient Andean ingredients and names. We were welcomed by the house refreshing drink, Tuna (prickly pear) juice, one of the 12 other fantastic juices, as delicious as they are colorful. As it was way past lunch hour, we ordered our meal right away and in no time, served the first entrée, Sashimi Andino for me and Tiradito de Trucha Marinada al Hinojo, smoked trout salad in dill vinaigrette for my husband, Julio. The sashimi was a little bit salty for me as it was drenched in soy sauce and topped with pre-Hispanic Andean capers called Ticsauyuyus, already naturally briny. I told Fernando to go easy on the soy sauce as usually with sashimi, it is served on the side, not marinated, besides the delectable capers lending its flavor. The smoked trout salad with lettuce, avocado and organic herbs was tantalizing and refreshing, truly opening your appetite with its lightness and flavor. For main course, I tried the Inchicuy Paullino, deep fried crunchy cuy (guinea pig) served with potato puree topped with crushed peanuts. It was perfect. Julio ordered Ñuñuma de Granja en Salsa de Maiz Morado, sliced braised duck breast served with quinoa in creamy purple corn sauce. Another divine dish! We begged off the delicious desserts as we washed down the gratifying Andean degustation with some more of the prickly pear juice! Later on, for dinner as we wished for something light during the cool evening, we settled for the Cray fish chowder, another Refugio specialty. Other house dishes which Lima loyal patrons keep coming back for are Tacu tacu de Pallares Relleno con Camarones, Cray fish filled mashed lima bean puree with rice, Fettuccini de Camarones al Estragon, fettuccini in Cray fish and tarragon sauce. Traditional Andean dishes are highlighted in its “Ancestral Huatia del Pariaca” marinated beef in herbs and chilies prepared Pachamanca (ancient Peruvian under-the-ground cooking) style, but in this case, in clay pots, instead of buried in fired up stones; and the ubiquitous Cuy en Salsa de Olivo, marinated cuy, golden browned served with olive sauce and crowned with smoked olives stuffed with Andean capers.
The next day, as dictated by its famous tradition, we went around the valley and searched for the best Cray fish restaurant but as it was Sunday, the town’s restaurants were full. We decided to try one near the plaza center and ordered their house specialty of Chicharron de camarones, breaded deep fried Cray fish, which turned out to be over-rated. The portion was too little, the taste mediocre. Service was awful and the rest of the meal deserves no more attention as we finished it for the mere fact that we were famished. Needless to say, it was nothing compared to Refugio’s exquisite experience, for just about the same price.
We hope Fernando and Silvana will continue and for long what they have started – a noble and authentic cause to rescue Peru’s thinning tradition of valuable plants and produce, while showcasing and sharing with the world the creative culinary resources of Peruvian crops long forgotten.