El Merlin's Gastronomic Art Gallery
The yellow walls of this rustic-ambienced restaurant welcome you and radiate a pleasant feeling of comfort as the waiters warmly assign you a table upon entrance. That is, if you run a bit late you will find yourself waiting in a long line amongst the other hungry guests, for El Merlin de Cabo Blanco is one really requested not only amongst native peruvians but also by a great range of tourists. You are offered the plentiful menu presenting a great diversity of dishes; this is where we discovered the magnificent “tiradito”. The multi colored sauces covering the finest strips of lemon-cooked fish are almost see-through if it weren’t for the intensely colored ají and olive sauces draped upon them in the most delicate way; portraying a painting-esque essence.
Lunch continues with some Peruvian choritos a la chalaca consisting of lemon and ají providing a strong spicy feel getting your tastebuds ready going for what’s coming next. The minuscule diced “criolla” sauce made up of of onions, tomato, vinegar, corn and rocoto pepper fills up the oysters almost spilling at the rims leaving you no option but to put it all in your mouth together and letting you enjoy the balanced and round taste of the spicy sauce evening out the soft taste of the oyster.
Of course the taste is relevant but El Merlin isn’t only a delight for the mouth but it’s also a treat for the eyes; going to this restaurant is like visiting an art gallery. You find yourself exposed to all these gastronomic fine works of art presented in the most thought-out ways. Our next order was rice that had the name of “Arrecife”, in english meaning ocean reef. The bright orange and intense warm rice had been prepared in the shape of a fish and adorned with seashell bites and smaller fish on the rims of the plate. Our phone cameras ate first as no one wanted to be the first to destroy the little orange Nemo look-alike and it’s seafood decorations. We finished the flavorful rice just as the waiter brought in the final two dishes.
I must comment that the one thing to really look out for when dining at El Merlin is the serving size. Each plate could easily fill up a person, especially one of the rice specials. If you truly want to experience the variety of foods this restaurant has to offer, it’s definitely recommended to go with friends. This gives you the opportunity to try a little bit of everything. To finish of our meal we enjoyed a typical “Causa Limeña” and a “Pulpo al Olivo”. Both these plates once again; masterpieces. The causa, a dough prepared with potato and ají filled with a rich creamy filling consisting of shrimp and mayonnaise was presented in a cake-like shape. Once again balance was the key to making this plate really shine. The contrasting spicy dough next to the soft and very mild taste of the filling satisfied everyone at the table. Alongside was the “Pulpo al Olivo” a plate meaning olived octopus in english. This plate delights your eye to octopus slices carefully presented along with some soda crackers and a rich creamy purple and a very strong tasting olive sauce that certainly leaves an impression.
From the “canchita” bowl with deep fried banana slices brought as courtesy, to the very last shell left on your empty plate, the extraordinary culinary experience that’s provided from beginning to end is like no other. Yes, when visiting El Merlin you will have a constant feeling of guilt every time you’re about to sink your fork into a new dish. It’s almost as if you were going to destroy a piece of beautiful artwork and proceed to eat it. Yet the guilt goes away as soon as you taste the magnificent flavors and you know deep inside that these masterpieces were made to be eaten.
Now every time the idea of enjoying some great peruvian cuisine is brought up, the very first image that comes to my mind is that of El Merlin’s beautiful and meticulously prepared dishes and as you enjoy your meal next to a jar of chicha morada you can’t help but wonder what the unique country of Perú had to do in order make it’s gastronomy so exceptional.