The Chinese and Japanese have left distinctive marks on Peruvian cuisine — immigrant laborers having brought the wok and knife techniques that led to national dishes like lomo saltado and tiradito. But long before that,Lima’s culinary influences were derived from the Spanish and African slaves who cooked in their kitchens.
This type of cooking, called criollo, is still around, but it is found far more frequently in the kitchens of Limeña grandmothers than in restaurants. Isolina, a stylish tavern in Barranco that opened in January, is an attempt to rectify this.
“The tendency for me is to look back,” said José del Castillo, the restaurant’s chef and owner. “This is food that doesn’t go out of fashion.”
During a recent lunch, when this heavy, hearty fare is traditionally eaten, my wife and I stopped in the downstairs bar area, with its painted tile floors and shelves lined with glass jars of pickled aji amarillo and turnips. We had a signature cocktail, the Capitán Oroya, with pisco, red vermouth and red wine, along with an IPA from the local brewery Maddok. Afterward, we moved upstairs.
Much of Isolina’s menu reads like a butcher’s list of byproducts — chicken gizzards, beef kidneys, pigs’ feet. Mr. del Castillo’s aim is authenticity, right down to the black beans, once a tradition in Lima, that he uses in his tacu tacu (basically rice and beans formed into a patty and sautéed). The result was a revelation.
When the first plate arrived, a heaping bowl of sea bass ceviche with fried octopus, we knew we had overordered. After the tortilla de sesos, a Frisbee-size Spanish-style omelet with silky calf’s brains and perfectly crisp edges, we could have left full. But then our waitress excitedly explained Mr. del Castillo’s fondness for cuchareo, slang for tender, slow-cooked meats eaten with a spoon, like the rich osso buco estofado, cooked for four hours in red wine and herbs.
Then came a soulful cau-cau (tripe and potato stew), sharing a plate with sangrecita, chicken blood that had been boiled, then fried with aji amarillo, onion, garlic and hierbabuena. Despite plans to walk a bridge nearby, we were tempted by dessert, arroz zambito, a colonial-era rice pudding. The bridge could wait.
Isolina, Avenida Prolongacion San Martín 101, Barranco; 51-98-247-5075; isolina.pe. Average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about 190 nuevo soles, $63 at 3 soles to the dollar.