The end of April a new restaurant, Café de la Paz, opened on Cuzco’s Triunfo street bringing another Lima heavyweight into Cuzco’s restaurant market. Unlike the chef-driven restaurants of the Cusco Restaurants chain, Café de la Paz is one of several trademarks of an important Lima company, the Grupo Dos de Mayo; it owns hotels, restaurants, and real estate. It promises a quality of attention and food typical of its Lima establishments for the people of Cuzco.
On the upper floor of a colonial building on this quaint street lined with restaurants, pubs, and handicraft markets and shops, the Cafe de la Paz is a long open space whose grace are the large windows opening on the walls and roofs of the complex of buildings of Cuzco’s archdiocese. It is light and airy, decorated at one end with a wall-sized black and white print of the city’s Cathedral.
The Grupo Dos de Mayo is reported to have made a $250,000 US investment in opening this restaurant which up until recently was the Cuzco locale of another well known Lima establishment, the Cafe Cafe. In fact this latter is very close to the Miraflores Cafe de la Paz.
Cuzco’s Cafe de la Paz has a full bar and a large space of tables covered in red and white as well as red-violet chairs against mauve-colored walls. The place is decorated as a dining room of an upper middle class family of some years ago in order to provide comfort and a feeling of belonging in Cuzco.
The color choice is reminiscent of the colors of the Brotherhood (Hermandad) of the Lord of Temblors, Cuzco’s patron saint, at the same time the Group’s name suggest the second of May feast in Cuzco, the Cruz Velakuy, the feast of the Cross. In any case, the point seems to embed the Café de La Paz in Cuzco’s culture and its upper middle class associations with Catholicism.
This includes the name, the Cafe of Peace, whose symbol is the dove repeated in the restaurant’s logo, its menus, and its place settings, at the same time the dove carries strong Catholic associations with the Holy Spirit and the peace of God.
The restaurant offers a selection of coffees for the morning along with breakfasts. The coffee is served on a wooden platter and silverware comes in a heavy paper folder. Despite the over the top aspect of spoons and forks in an envelope and the way the wooden platter occupies a lot of table space, the coffee is rich and well-prepared making the Cafe de La Paz a fine place to go for breakfast.
But their lunch offerings with specials, fixed lunch offerings (menus), and a large list of appetizers and entrees is really the most important offering of the Café.
The Grupo Dos de Mayo’s restaurants emphasize Italian-style food, with pizzas and pasta. However, they report that with the boom in Peruvian gastronomy that fusion dishes have taken off and claim as much as fifty percent of sales. This may signal a significant change in the demand for Peruvian-Italian food.
In our visit to Cafe de La Paz for lunch we decided to try both classic Peruvian dishes as well as fusion foods.
As an appetizer we ordered potatoes with a yellow aji de gallina sauce and a green huacatay and hot pepper cream that was graced with a name that made it as indigenous as Peru’s mountains and as local as a named place, “Papas de la Sierra de Llampuruna”.
The deep fried balls of mashed potatoes stuffed with a flavorful cheese were well made and delicious as were the two classic sauces accompanying them.
But the name is a bit strange and shows an intriguing problem in the world of Peruvian gastronomy struggling to blend as well as bridge the gap between local and foreign. The sound of the name and its mix of mountains and Quechua name sounds so real and so local, and the dish was so good, that it almost seems rude to mention that the place was not found in a Google search that usually turns up even the most obscure place names.
The search did show, however, that the Cafe de La Paz has used the same name for stuffed yuca (manioc) accompanied by an ocopa sauce and also a huacatay sauce. The sauces and the stuffed carbohydrate may be the basis for using the same name for the potatoes.
The Quechua means smooth (or perhaps kind) people.
In any case, in the struggle for authenticity, the marketers are not holding closely to indigenous reality all they while they are legitimately Peruvian. It would be fine if they did not stake faulty claims to being indigenous.
While light classical music played in the background there almost seemed too few potato balls to satisfy us, but that is a good appetizer. It whetted our appetite and left us wanting more.
The menu offered a great variety to choose from. It included a variety of salads, soups, pastas, sandwiches, pizzas, and heavier fare.
To Mozart’s Magic Flute a tantalizing Arroz con Mariscos (Rice with Shell Fish) arrived on our table, beautiful and steaming. It was quickly followed by their daily special, the Lomo de La Paz (a tenderloin steak in a mushroom gravy accompanied by fries,) and Cannelloni in Aji de Gallina Sauce, a Novo-Andean combination of classic Italian and creole cuisines.
Like the Mozart, the dishes were beautiful, but were not as serious as they seemed. Mozart had the genius to pull of light music brilliantly. Here the chefs focused on external appearance. The shellfish rice was off-flavored. The meat was not cooked to the proper point asked for, though it was a good cut and well prepared. The fries were like frozen US fries rather than the nutty flavored, classic Peruvian fry, and the cannellonis were simply lost in the heavy sauce.
Cafe de La Paz offers a great place to unwind and relax near Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas. Its servers are warm, inviting, and knowledgeable. It has Wi Fi and good coffee or tea. Its dishes are beautiful to look at, though like the name of its stuffed potato balls, are filled with surface flash.
However, it is a product of a management firm, rather than a chef crafted restaurant. It has its place and brings a well-known Lima name to the Cuzco restaurant scene.