So many new restaurants are opening up in Lima at an almost overwhelming rate. Restauranteurs and investors are taking full advantage of Lima’s “food mecca” popularity. Every day I read an article about a new restaurant popping up in the local newspapers. One of these most recently was in August in _El Comercio_: a one-page spread on the anticipated opening of Virgilio Martinez’s new restaurant venture, NOS. For those new to Peru or perhaps living in a cave, Virgilio Martinez is the owner, chef and creative genius behind Central. Central earned a top spot on Latin America’s Best Restaurant in 2014 and most recently listed in San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2015 in the No. 4 position.
Martinez and his Restogrupo partners have created a new restaurant with a completely different concept than his restaurant, Central. In NOS they wanted to create a cosmopolitan, bistro-style restaurant with a casual dining approach. One of the major differences between Central and NOS are the food proportions. Central is a high-gastronomic gourmet fine dining experience with small portions. NOS offers a selection of international dishes, some quite hearty in size, but with flavors of home. NOS strives to offer rich, delicious and healthy food with a Peruvian identity as well as using Peruvian products. Virgilio Martinez has created the NOS menu, is the overseer and mentor, however has left the cooking in the capable hands of chef, Diego Malhue, who hails from Santiago, Chile and has been a resident of Lima for the past couple years.
On the day of our visit, NOS had only been open five days. I arrived early and opted to sit at the bar for a few minutes. The circular bar is quite large and has space for 25 people. The bar is wide and comfortable enough to sit and eat your meal at the bar if you wish. The bar stool had to be one of the most comfortable ever. Besides the bar seating, there is table or booth seating available for at least 140. At 12:30, when the rest of my group arrived, only a few tables were full, but an hour later the place was pretty much full to capacity with only a few available tables.
_(Photo: Qi Tian/Living in Peru)_
Please note, we were initially told that NOS does not accept reservations, it is a first come, first serve basis. Later we were advised that they do accept reservations, but only for groups of seven or more. NOS is open continuously from noon to midnight daily. The kitchen does not close between lunch and dinner. The same menu is offered the entire day.
The bistro concept is obvious from the moment you enter NOS. The decor was urban and casual chic along with an open kitchen concept. Lots of dark wood throughout with many natural elements as well as plants. The burnt-orange suede seats went well with the decor. The lighting was muted quite a bit, but not so much that you could not see well. The vibe was relaxed and casual and it was easy to get comfortable to enjoy the food, drink and have a conversation.
p=. “Virgilio cooks up a storm in Denmark”:http://www.peruthisweek.com/news-gelinaz-shuffle-virgilio-martinez-to-cook-in-denmark-106982
We began our experience at NOS with a couple of house cocktails as well as their house bread (pan de la casa, S/.15). The house bread was generous in size, served warm and actually very good served with two butters: aji amarillo and caramelized onion. I found NOS’ version of the pisco sour to be one of the better ones out there, quite smooth and slightly addictive. NOS uses Ferreyros pisco exclusively in their pisco sours. Four different piscos are available for their other pisco cocktails. Riding the current gin craze, NOS offers four different gin cocktails. We sampled one which I enjoyed very much called apple fly, which was a refreshing mixture of Tanqueray gin, apple, honey and cucumber and accented with rosemary sprigs. There are at least 16 unique house cocktails to choose from. The beer list is small and currently offers five great artisanal Peruvian beer options. Wine is only served by the glass and has 11 options.
_(Photo: Qi Tian/Living in Peru)_
NOS offers five options of limeades, juice combinations and unique iced teas if you are leaning more towards nonalcoholic beverages. Our table thoroughly enjoyed the limeade version called sabas nieves, a combination of lemongrass, pineapple and lime juice.
Before we began our dining experience, we were told that all the dishes served at NOS are prepared somewhat traditionally with the creative touches of Virgilio Martinez. It was obvious that presentation is quite important. One of the table favorites was from the crudo section of the menu, the ceviche del día (S/. 42). The fish used for the ceviche was one of my favorites, the mild charela. The fish was extremely fresh, with the right amount of red onion, aji limo, lime juice and topped off with perfectly crispy fried calamari rings and a light drizzle of aioli. We thoroughly enjoyed the whimsical choice of serving canchita, homemade sweet potato chips and a decadent, addictive purée of sweet potato all nestled in a small black cast iron pot alongside the bowl of ceviche. It was a clever and flavorful deconstructed version of the typical ceviche that is served with steamed sweet potato and corn together on the same plate. Excellent ceviche!
The starter, palta al grill (S/. 35), was a large avocado, cut in half which had been brushed in olive oil and grilled and filled generously with a mixture of shrimp, panca, batayaki and grilled toasts. This dish was quite rich and creamy and could easily be shared between two to four persons. I noticed many tables had ordered this appetizer.
NOS offers four different versions of focaccia….vegetable, pork, seafood and avocado. We sampled the vegetable version (focaccia vegetal, S/. 32). The two, large slices of thick-cut grilled focaccia were topped off with an abundance of grilled zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, aji amarillo salsa and slightly melted fresh cheese. I felt the eggplant was a bit overcooked and overly charred, but the flavors were still good.
The main dish/caja caliente section offers six beef dishes as well as two of each of pork, chicken and fish selections. We sampled two of these. We first sampled the chuleton de cerdo (thick-cut pork chop, S/. 56), which was very generous in size and in quality. We felt parts of it were juicy and other parts drier….a bit unevenly cooked, but overall quite good. With a chop of this size, it can sometimes cook unevenly. The presentation was quite eclectic with artistic splashes of decorative olive paste and chimichurri sauce and the chop was accompanied by a fully roasted garlic bulb with delicious caramelized garlic paste and a wonderful dipping sauce which incorporated juices from the pork chop. I am a fan of olives, but for me personally, I felt the olive paste did not complement the chop, others liked it. The roasted native potatoes with sautéed herbs were perfect with this dish.
Hamburgers are still all the rage in Lima right now and NOS has their version as well. The hamburguesa NOS (S/. 48), was 240 grams of beef which was topped off with a slightly sweet bacon marmalade (loved this!), melted mozzarella, arugula and tomato nestled inside a homemade bun. It looked delicious, was cooked medium-rare-ish, but we were surprised that when we had a couple bites that the meat was slightly dry and not juicy. Most burgers found in Lima restaurants these days are between 150 to 220 grams and NOS’ version was one of the larger versions at 240 grams. We opted for the french fried potatoes to accompany this.
_(Photo: Qi Tian/Living in Peru)_
NOS’ version of chocolate cake (torta de chocolate de la casa, S/.32) was a wonderful surprise. Rich, decadent and moist with beautiful, glistening well defined layers. It’s generous size allows for sharing. I would definitely order this again.
I am not normally a huge fan of chirimoya, but the chirimoya mousse (suspiro blanco con todas las texturas de chirimoya, S/. 28), was a fresh, creamy, creative and artistic delicious dessert which almost resembled an art collage. The creamy chirimoya mousse, combined with slices of fresh strawberries, hints of chocolate, and pieces of pink shards of meringue was a very memorable dessert.
Over the past few weeks I have heard many mixed reviews (half positive, half negative) about NOS. Of course there are many expectations due to the notoriety of Virgilio Martinez and his previous successes. There are many high expectations and pressure for NOS to succeed. With any new restaurant there will always be growing pains and time to get the “kinks” out.
During my experience at NOS I found the food to be quite consistent in providing dishes served bistro style. For me, this is a style I affiliate with more casual fare, heartier food….bistro food is more in the style of home cooking, not fussy food. Many of the menu options did provide “comfort” food and in generous portions. I observed that most of the dishes coming out of the kitchen could easily be shared. I also found a couple “glitches”/imperfections as well in a couple dishes, but I believe those types of things will be resolved in time.
NOS is definitely more accessible to the public than Central. I definitely intend to return to NOS in the very near future since I am quite curious to sample a few of their other dishes. Those that are on my “list” to try would be…..the naan y asado de tira, carpaccio, carrot-cake cheese cake,and Nutella tart just to name a few. Since NOS has been open less than a month, I can only imagine it will only get better as time goes on.
Vasco Nunez de Balboa 660
Open daily 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Starters/Appetizers: S/. 28-35
Salads: S/. 29-32
Focaccia: S/. 32-38
Crudos (carpaccio/tiradito/ceviche/tartar): S/. 28-45
Rice/Pastas: S/. 36-46
Main Dishes: S/. 44-120
Side dishes: S/. 10-12
Desserts: S/. 28-32
Beverages (non-alcoholic): S/. 19
Coffee/Tea: S/. 8-9
Water: S/ .8
Beer: S/. 22-23
Wine: S/. 24-30 (by the glass)
Cocktails: S/. 28-48