The trick of Gastón Acurio’s latest restaurant, El Bodegón, is to make you believe it has always existed on this quiet corner in the Miraflores neighborhood. Acurio, Peru’s most famous chef, with a global empire of 50 restaurants, kept the name and much of the design of the previous restaurant in order to evoke a classic Limeña taberna. The walls are covered in old portraits of famous footballers and Peruvian celebrities. Classic rock — Sting, Clapton, the Beatles — plays in the background. Mostly local workers fill the intimate space, textured with dark wood, brick and marble tables, during a late lunch.
With nearly 50 dishes, the ever-evolving menu at El Bodegón (which, in fact, opened in July) is a deep dive into casera home-cooking and Lima’s multicultural cuisine. More than 20 years ago, Acurio lit the fuse for the boom in Peruvian cuisine, and here he is again, offering a new statement of possibilities. The chef said he is remembering and recovering the food from his childhood, “all the dishes that I lost in time because they were only made by my grandmother or my family or because they were just made in the ‘70s.” While this effort could easily descend into an exercise in twee nostalgia, Acurio’s playfulness and sincerity grounds things in the present: The menu follows seasonal, local ingredients and he solicits food memories from his customers and on social media.
During a recent visit, baffled by options, we depended on the friendly and knowledgeable waiters to decipher the menu. We started with the salty and rich crab causa, poetically named “more crab than causa,” which arrived as a Pop Art provocation of golden mashed potato layers overflowing with a crab and egg salad, drenched in a Pepto-Bismol-pink sauce. A salad of lima beans was fresh and tasty. A whole cauliflower did something new with a vegetable oft overlooked in Peru, subbing here for chicken in the popular dish aji de gallina; cooked in a rich creamy sauce spiked with Parmesan and peppers, the cauliflower melted in my mouth. The huatia de res — an ancient pre-Columbian preparation of braised beef in herbs — was succulent, accentuated by sides of beans, rice and fried yuca.
For dessert, we ordered the suspiro (breath) de chiramoya, chunks of the buttery custard apple bathed in dulce de leche and topped with soft meringue. This is fun, casual gluttony and the copious portions have many diners leaving with leftovers. My only quibble — a minor lapse encountered at other Lima restaurants — was a glass of local draft beer delivered with far too much foam. But one can’t go wrong with classic pisco-based cocktails and the ginger ale-spiked Chilcano goes down far too easily.
The experiments of Lima’s high-end tasting menus have garnered the spotlight, but El Bodegón is part of a growing movement to renovate the food of the everyday. Acurio is broadening the accessibility of Peru’s culinary gains and offering a quality of cooking rarely found at this price point in Lima. The hourlong lines at lunch — reservations are accepted for dinner only — already have him planning another taberna.
IF YOU GO:
El Bodegón, Calle Tarapacá 197, Miraflores; elbodegon.com.pe.
An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is 130 soles, about $40.