Dan and I lunched at one of the best restaurants I have been to in a while for his birthday in April – Restaurant Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia! Restaurant Gustu is the creation of Claus Meyer, the father of New Nordic Cuisine and co-founder of the famous (now closed) Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Gustu means “flavor” in the local Quechua language and the restaurant uses ingredients exclusively from Bolivia. Gustu only opened in 2012, but it has won many awards since. Its currently on the 50 Best Latin American Restaurants.
In any case, we were excited for our lunch, which we ate during a 6 hour layover in La Paz between Uyuni and Tarija (no, flights are not convenient in Bolivia). So, we deplaned, stored our luggage at the El Alto airport, and took a taxi down to Gustu. We were the first reservation and actually arrived a few minutes before the restaurant opened. Staff let us in anyway and fixed us a cocktail. We were shown to our seats a few minutes later.
Gusto is located in a modern building, but the inside is decorated with local Bolivian touches, a beautiful bar and a view of the kitchen. Dan and I sat with a view to the kitchen. As we visited for lunch, all diners (or lunchers…) must order the tasting menu, which consists of ten courses total. There is no drink pairing at lunch, so we ordered from the cocktail list (see below for more info). The cocktails were fantastic and only about $7 USD per cocktail.
COURSE ONE – A TINY DUCK BITE WITH GREAT PRESENTATION
Our first course started delicious with a tiny cracker cup filled with duck tartare, pomegranate seeds, and some edible flowers. This micro dish was served on a bed of wheat for presentation. I am not a big duck person (and Dan’s allergic) but this bite was absolutely delicious and set the tone for the entire meal.
COURSE TWO – A LOCAL ROOT VEGETABLE IN BANANA PEPPER BALSAMIC
The second course was presented in a stone bowl as a circle of Bolivian root vegetable (cannot recall the name!!) with banana pepper balsamic vinegar inside the bowl. We were directed to mix everything together and eat the dish. The root vegetable was a little bitter and paired perfectly with the banana pepper balsamic. We were off to a good start.
COURSE THREE – LOCAL BREAD WITH CREAMY BUTTER TOPPED WITH “ASH”
Course three looked pretty innocent, but it had some surprises. First, we were served local Bolivian bread piping hot on a stone plate. The bread was slightly hard on the outside with a soft and pillowy interior. The bread was paired with Bolivian butter topped with “ash” (a combo of spices, including Bolivian salt). The butter really made the dish shine, as the “ash” topping gave it something extra.
COURSE FOUR – THE TASTIEST SALAD WITH FLOWERS
The fourth course was the prettiest salad. Consisting of a variety of greens and edible pink flowers, the salad was presented in a circular shape with egg yolk filling the inside of the salad. Guests were told to mix everything together to properly enjoy the dish. My favorite thing about this dish, which I learned when I mixed everything together, is that under the salad was the most delicious dressing that I can only describe as a slightly sweet chipotle ranch. Delicious!
COURSE FIVE – ALLIGATOR FROM THE AMAZON IN ANIMAL MILK.
Course five was an interesting, and slightly scary, one for me – “Alligator from the Amazon.” Ahhh! In fact, until having this dish, I didn’t even realize that a sizeable chunk of the Amazon is in Bolivia. Well, now I know! And the alligator in my dish came from that part of the Amazon. The alligator was served in an almost a ceviche style, thinly sliced and lying slightly under the white broth made of milk. Also in the dish were some micro greens and a tasty orange sauce. This ended up being the most interesting dishes of my meal, and one of the tastiest! This is why I love a tasting menu; I would NEVER order this.
COURSE SIX – BEETS WITH LOCAL GREENS AND SPICE
The next course was my least favorite, entirely due to the fact that it was beet based, and I don’t really like beets. In any case, this dish was a bowl of beets, local greens, and a light white sauce with a side of a local plant of which you put a bit into the dish to give it some local spice. I thought the spice addition was very cool and the spice smelled good, but I couldn’t get past the beets.
COURSE SEVEN – GNOCCHI AND FISH
Course seven got back on track with my palette with another stone bowl, this one filled with local fish, gnocchi, fruit and four micro greens. I don’t know what kind of fish was served, but it was mild and very tasty, especially with the fruit and spices in the bowl. The gnocchi was also good, but gnocchi is always good.
COURSE EIGHT – DUCK TAMALE
The final savory course was a duck tamale, and it was incredible. I do not love duck as a rule (and Dan is allergic) so duck is not at the top of my ordering list. However, this tamale was absolutely incredible. The tamale was a standard tamale stuffed with duck and served with chili cream and local roasted vegetables. Dan had a chicken tamale is he is allergic to duck and we both really enjoyed this.
COURSE NINE – A BOLIVIAN SMORE
After the duck, we moved on to desserts! First up, another contender for my favorite dish: a classic s’more made with orange cookies served with acai ice cream squares. This dessert was incredible. The s’more was warm and the marshmallow inside was perfectly gooey. The warm s’more paired really well with the frozen ice cream squares. I could have eaten about five of this dish.
COURSE TEN – ICE CREAM BAR!
The tenth and final course was one of the most beautiful courses – a lilac colored ice cream bar topped with the prettiest things and served on a bed of flowers. A+ for presentation. As for taste, the ice cream bar was very good, but nowhere close to the orange s’more. Still, a great ending with such a beautiful dessert!
And now, I have to discuss the cocktails that we had! Dan loves cocktails, so we had to have a variety for his birthday. Luckily, Gustu has a great bar and a solid cocktail list for about $7 USD per drink. The drinks were also well prepared and not sweet. Here are some pictures of what we had (some are mine & some are Dan’s). Gustu also has a solid wine selection with solid producers from Bolivia, including Tarija (where we headed after this lunch!).