English speakers use the term ‘know-how’ to refer to the practical knowledge required to get something done and the French lexical borrowing ‘savoir faire’ to name the ability to adapt to different situations and settings. However, when you taste the finesse in Chez Philippe’s cuisine, you realize you need more than know-how to be able to blend flavors, conjure aromas, and achieve textures the way they do. What you really need is real savoir faire, Larousse definition.
After over a decade on Av. 2 de Mayo in San Isidro, Chez Philippe has relocated to the busy neighborhood called La Encalada in Surco. “It’s impressive how after all the months it took to find a new venue, we still have a following,” says Philippe Bigourd, the Alsace-born and raised owner of this cozy and friendly restaurant.
We begin our visit with the intensity and depth of the flavors found in their mousse de canard au cognac (duck mousse with cognac) and their pâté de campagne (countryside pâté), both served cold and easily spread on freshly in-house baked bread. This is definitely the best way to start. In each case, the panade is savory and firm and soft at the same time.
Artisanal sausage (Photo: Living in Peru/Manuel Maggot)
Another great appetizer, big enough to be shared between two or even three, are the artisanal sausages, or saucisses. The serving is made up of a merguez, a spiced lamb sausage; a saucisse naturelle, a regular house-made pork sausage; and a saucisse aux herbes, a pork sausage with herbes de Provence. They come with a delicious whole-grain mustard (moutard à l’ancienne), which is indeed the thing to have if you love old-style unprocessed foods the way everybody should.
The drive and the food have made us thirsty, and here comes the thing that made Chez Philippe celebrated when they were located in San Isidro until they closed in August 2014: the new location displays again a wide selection of Belgian and English beers. And we are not talking styles. They are widely-recognized imported brews, including The Brewmaster’s Edition Gulden Draak, a Belgian quadrupel aged in oak whiskey barrels brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge, the same guys responsible for the Piraat ales.
Golden Pride (Photo: Living in Peru/Manuel Maggot)
A fine luxury at 10.5 % alcohol by volume, it would totally overpower our mousse, pâté, and saucisses, so our choice is another wonderful beer from Europe. An English barleywine at 8.5 % ABV, Golden Pride drinks rich in malty flavors and aromas that pair really well with our starters.
But the re-opening, now at Centro Comercial Monterrico in Surco, has met the boom of Peruvian craft beers, and here you can also find a large array of locally-brewed suds, such as Barbarian, Invictus, Maddok, Nuevo Mundo, and quite many others. If you are intrigued by such a beer diversity at a French cooking restaurant, you would do well to remember that Alsace borders with Germany and Switzerland, two countries that love their hops-driven beverages.
Next are two of the items Chez Philippe is most famous for. Let us start with my favorite: tarte flambée. A traditional food in Alsace, where it is called flamakuche in the Alsatian dialect, tarte flambée is made in a similar fashion to an Italian pizza but without the tomato sauce and baked at higher temperatures. It is as simple as simplicity can get. Only white cheese from Cajamarca, white onions, and lardons (cubes of pork fat such as bacon) make up the topping. The higher baking temperature results in an almost crunchy thin flatbread at the bottom, and this adds up to the pleasure of properly holding each slice in your hands.
(Photo: Living in Peru/Manuel Maggot)
The other delicious staple at Chez Philippe is pizza. And this is the reason for a lot of young patrons to come over and over. The topping for the one we enjoy is pepperoni and mushrooms, but you can easily customize it to your own liking. “We peel 100 kg of tomatoes every time we make our tomato sauce,” Philippe points out with a sense of satisfaction only rewarding hard work can provide. The great care put into every detail is admirable and praiseworthy.
Enter the lapin au vin (rabbit stewed in wine sauce). And this is when you can close your eyes and picture the city silently vanish while the green plains and valleys of Alsace pop up and the Rhine streams down where Avenida Primavera ought to be. The complex and intense flavors of the wine sauce contrast with the mild and tender nature of the meat. The side dish is another traditional element on the Alsatian cuisine: knepfla. Looking like minute gnocchi, they are pellet-like dumplings made of flour, eggs, salt, and water only. “The batter has to be runny so you can let drops of it fall into boiling water,” Philippe explains. Once the knepfla are al dente, they are sautéed in butter. To go with the rabbit stew and the pasta, Cuvée des Trolls is the right choice. A Belgian strong pale ale at 7 % ABV, this beer has enough citrusy notes to be up to the delectable fattiness of the sauce and the knepfla and a hint of spices that complement the herbs in the gravy.
It is a wonder how the simple things of life can be complex at the same time. If you feel like validating this thought, call on Philippe and his wife Sophia at Chez Philippe. We can guarantee you that their masonry oven is only one of the things that will surprise you. After you have had a taste of their food and beer approach, you will be coming back for more.
Av. Primavera 1551, Santiago de Surco, Lima
José Castro is a certified barista keen on reading, writing, and self-learning. In addition to being a father of one and husband of one, he is a columnist with Catering & Gastronomía magazine and a contributing writer to Cocktail magazine. Translator, photography aficionado, and former singer of a Beatles tribute band, he runs his own blog on beer, cocktails, coffee, and their food pairings at TomandoAltura.com under the pen name El Gourmetógrafo. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.