To follow up on our Italian Art Museum article, we’re covering one of the oldest Italian restaurants in Lima. For my money you won’t find better non-Peruvian food in Lima than at Blue Moon (English site), the historic Italian restaurant founded by Santino Balleta in 1966.
What makes Blue Moon unique from most Italian restaurants, at least most Italian restaurants in the United States, is the dedication to wild game meats. The menu offers several pheasant, rabbit and deer dishes, which an old interview in Peru’s top culture pub Caretas reveals is simply a personal preference of the proprietor, Don Santino.
Balleta came to Peru in 1960 and opened Blue Moon in 1966. It has since become the most well-known Italian restaurant in Lima. Located just north of San Isidro and not far from downtown, the restaurant has been patronized by members from Peru’s highest halls of power. The restaurant celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.
Blue Moon is probably best known for the buffet. For 70 soles ($21.60) on weekends and holidays, you can try a sample of most everything on the menu from cured meats, olives and cheeses to lamb, rabbit, deer and more well-known Italian plates featuring beef, chicken, pork, pasta and more.
The highlight of my various visits was the deer, which was quite the gamble for us. Deer is common in the midwestern and northern states of the U.S., even for people who don’t hunt. Because if one guy gets a deer, he’ll have so much deer meat that he ends up gifting some to everyone he knows.
Deer meat, known as venison, is lean but has a gamey flavor. The difficult flavor is why you can’t get deer at any restaurants and you end up eating your fair share even if you don’t hunt. When we lived in Michigan, a hunting hotbed, it got to the point where my wife refused to eat it.
Blue Moon’s Deer in Green Pepper Sauce, however, tasted nothing like deer as we knew it. Don Santino recommended it, and he had to convince us. He served it medium rare. It was soft, rich and delicious. Served with a vegetable risotto.
I’ll also highlight the Escalopine Blue Moon, veal cutlets topped with prosciutto, mozzarella and Madeira tomato sauce served with Porcini mushroom risotto.
The lasagna addict wife tried the Lasagna Mafiosa, which blends marinara with alfredo sauces and adds prosciutto slices to the ground beef.
Also pictured is the bruschetta, two Sicilian cannoli and what may be the strangest item to find in Peru which is not on the menu: bear. After introducing myself Don Santino brought us a few samples of imported bear meat from Italy. I had never had bear, and we were rather surprised how soft and flavorful it was. Santino attributes that to the three-day process of cooking it.
Just when you thought the place was already overflowing with character, I have to mention the bottle collection. The walls and ceilings are covered with bottles from around the world. With a collection of over 20,000, Blue Moon has Latin America’s largest bottle collection. Pictures of the dining rooms also included.
Don Santino is clearly passionate about food. Not only because he owns what has become an iconic restaurant in a gastronomic heavyweight city with high competition for icons. But because if you get him started on cooking, he’ll talk to you all about it.
Blue Moon makes some of its own cheeses and cured meats. The rest is imported from Italy. Also worthy of note are its homemade chocolates, which are so good I’d save room for at least one full plate of sweets if planning on hitting the buffet.
Most of the best dishes cost 40 soles ($13) and up, with the most expensive dishes priced at 90 ($28). However the lasagnas and basic pastas go for as little as 20.