Virgilio Martinez, the mastermind behind Lima’s #5 restaurant in the world Central, opened MIL in the Sacred Valley in February 2018. One of Aracari’s specialist guides in Cusco, Lisy Kuon, went to test out this buzzworthy new gourmet opening for Aracari and shares her first-hand review.
Review of MIL, the Best Restaurant in the Sacred Valley
WRITTEN BY LISY KUON
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MIL RESTAURANT
Let me start by saying that a visit to MIL is almost a «religious experience.» It is completely unique to anything else offered in the area, and one could easily say that it is the best restaurant in the Sacred Valley. Offering an innovative 8-course tasting menu at lunch, I would highly recommend any self-proclaimed foodies take time to dine there during a trip to Peru.
My visit began with a 1.5 hour drive from Cusco to the archaeological site of Moray, but Aracari guests who choose to dine at MIL will do so amid their day tour of Moray and the nearby site of Maras. That being said, the remote location should not deter a visit as the lunch fits nicely into a day tour of the region.
As a local of Cusco, upon arrival it was not the archaeological site that stunned me with its beauty (as it does for most travelers) rather the restaurant and the way it seamlessly fits into the landscape. The restaurant has a simple and clean architecture, and is built right above the circular Inca terraces of Moray. It is a spectacular setting, un-disrupted by the adobe building thanks to its natural design.
The Food at the Best Restaurant in the Sacred Valley
After walking over to take a peek at Moray, I checked in for my reservation and sat down to begin the meal. The dishes were exquisite and completely one-of-a-kind, each paired with a little taste of herb-infused water, tea, or juice of exotic national fruits. I imagine the flavors of the drinks and the meal will be completely new to a foreigner as the small tasting dishes were filled with regional produce such as the super-food black maca, local corns, uchucuta (a traditional spicy cream sauce), and some of the over 4,000 types of potato grown in Peru – but that is the beauty of the experience! You eat 100% local dishes in the most creative combinations possible. And the waiters are all well informed on the ingredients to help explain the intricate details of what each contains, so while you dine you are also learning about the agricultural specifics of the country. Though the plates are small, after 8 of them I was very satisfied. My favorite was the pork preparation with fresh onions and herbs. It sounds simple, but the flavors were absolutely rich and delicious.
The MIL Experience
Something that makes MIL even more unique than just its one of a kind tasting menu, is the experience that comes with dining there. Each of the 8 courses at MIL reflect the 8 ecosystems found at the high altitude (3,600m / 11,800ft) that the restaurant sits at. Virgilio, the creator, has been experimenting in his connected lab with cooking at this altitude, and working extremely closely with 3 nearby indigenous communities to learn from their knowledge of techniques for farming, growing, and cooking at the altitude. When you dine at the restaurant, you also get to tour the on-site food labs and learn about the work with the communities.
The social project with nearby communities is what fascinated me most, so I asked the MIL staff many questions about this aspect of the business. They explained that Virgilio had made close connections with the locals and invested in an irrigation system that cleans the water to feed the crops the communities grow. In return, the communities provide crops for the restaurant and also have clean and healthy crops they can sell at a higher price in the markets.
I also took a tour of one of the other wings of the building specifically dedicated to the production of local chocolate. Sourced from a region of Peru called Quillabamba, the chocolate here is a collaboration between the restaurant and a group of local cocoa producers who they support by incorporating their product in the food and also by selling the chocolate at the restaurant.
The third and final wing of the restaurant is dedicated to regional herb-infused liquors, run by Virgilio’s sister and a group of biologists and anthropologists. They research and analyze the quality of produce in the region to better flavor dishes at the restaurant as well as the liquors in their wing. Unfortunately I did not have time to visit this part of the restaurant, but I guess that means I will need to go back again one day!
Overall, I had a great experience at MIL. And without a doubt would recommend the restaurant to visitors to the region looking for gourmet Peruvian dining in a spectacular location.
When Lisy Kuon she isn’t trying out delicious new eateries, she is one of Aracari’s specialist guides as a charismatic and knowledgeable anthropologist and humanitarian, with expertise in Peruvian colonial history, art and architecture. Lisy’s extensive academic career has seen her gain several degrees in the Humanities, covering Anthropology, Journalism, History of Art and the Restoration of Historic Monuments. She has researched and written many international and Peruvian publications and is now an independent researcher and consultant on Art and History of South Andean Colonial Cusco. Lisy has also served as Director of Cultural Activities at the National Institute of Culture (Cusco Region).