There has been a major food renaissance in Peru in the past 15 years, and though the gourmet epicenter of Peru is still the capital city of Lima, foodie-mania has been spreading throughout the entire country. Cusco, for example, a thriving city in the midst of the Andes, with a strong mix of Incan and European traditions, is also getting in on the Peruvian food revival. Nowhere is it more apparent than at Cicciolina (2nd Floor, Triunfo 393, Cusco, Peru), a restaurant that boasts a wide menu of Peruvian-style tapas and modern dishes with Mediterranean twists on Peruvian ingredients, known as Novo Andino (New Andean).
Located on the second floor of a colonial home with a large courtyard and several other shops and restaurants, Cicciolina is open for lunch and a dinner, with a large menu of tapas and mains, particularly featuring some of the best fresh pasta in Peru. Before you go in, it is worth noting that the seating at Cicciolina is a bit unusual. You can sit in the front bar area, or for a fee of 7 soles (about $2.50), you can sit in the main dining room (now there’s a new charge for us). We opted to be more casual and eat at the bar, especially since we arrived at the tail end of lunch. The lively bar area is nice and atmospheric, and has huge bunches of garlic and peppers hanging from the ceiling. Another plus – you have a direct view into the open kitchen and see the chefs hard at work.
We knew we had to order some pasta since we saw it everywhere in the kitchen – when we dined there was a huge batch of freshly made squid ink pasta hanging from the windowsill (seen above). The menu is vast and includes soups, salads, a large number of seafood dishes including scallops and paiche (Amazon fish), veal osso buco, char-grilled steaks, Andean meas like alpaca and cuy, seafood risotto, and handmade pastas like beet ravioli (mains between 33 and 55 soles). For more casual fare, you can even order some amazing-looking sandwiches for lunch or get your fill of tapas like hummus, duck prosciutto and quinoa-coated prawns (tapas from 9 to 30 soles). There is also an extensive wine menu, and the waiters will let you linger at the table with your wine and snacks.
We were served a little plate of olives and local root vegetable chips on the house to start, which was a nice touch. Off the tapas menu we ordered two dishes – the alpaca carpaccio (21 soles) and the river trout ceviche with a tumbo dressing and fresh herbs (28 soles). The alpaca carpaccio was great start to the meal, and a new meat for us entirely. The tender, almost sweet meat, was perfectly dressed with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh goat cheese. The river trout ceviche was different than any other ceviche we had had in Peru so far – instead of turning to ocean fish, the chefs utilized locally-sourced freshwater fish, dressed with a local fruit – tumbo (which is similar to passion fruit). M especially liked the freshness of this dish, the great texture of the locally-sourced fish, as well as the the punch of the passion fruit dressing instead of the usual lime. The grand finale was the Peruvian yellow potato gnocchi (33 soles). A simple looking dish, but with some of the lightest, most delectable gnocchi I have ever had, dressed in a simple sage butter sauce. I could have eaten three times the amount on the plate (at least)!
Cicciolina had amazing food, for a relatively reasonable price, especially for being one of the highest-rated restaurants in all of Cusco. It is really a few restaurants in one: a tapas and wine bar, a place for sandwiches, and elegant fine dining. If you want breakfast you are in luck, because they have a small bakery downstairs called “Bread and Breakfast” that makes fresh bread and coffee every morning until 11 AM. At Cicciolina, you can basically choose your own food adventure. If we lived in Cusco we would probably eat at Cicciolina for every meal of the day!