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for a Good Meal »
The funny thing is, I almost missed out on the third great meal I've had since arriving in Chicago. I had spent quite a sum the previous evening at Froggy's French Restaurant in Highwood, IL and I wasn't looking to spend any more money that weekend. So when my friend, A, invited me to join her and NM, B, and IM, I gave her a noncommittal reply and kind of ducked all of them. I wasn't able to avoid them for long, though: I ran into them at the track on base and I was finally persuaded to go with them to Chicago on Sunday evening. Boy, I sure am glad I did!
What I ate:
1. Complimentary bread with aji verde sauce. Hands down, the best, perfectly balanced aji verde sauce I've ever had. It wasn't too spicy, the flavor of the cheese came through nicely, and any green flavor was restrained. In the end, I stole one of the bowls of aji verde and I proceeded to fiendishly devour spoonful after spoonful of the stuff, it was so good. The bread was standard for a Peruvian restaurant.
2. Chicha Morada (1.75 USD). A purple corn and pineapple drink. There was a strong taste of cinnamon in this chicha. I had A taste it (she's a Peruana), to get her take on it, and she said that there was probably some apple added to the drink. I tasted the chicha afterwards and thought that yes, there could have been some apple in the drink. I guess every Peruvian restaurant out there has their own secret recipe for chicha morada!
3. Ceviche Especial (16 USD): Mixed seafood and fresh corvina, marinated in lime juice and Peruvian spices. Served with onions, corn, and sweet potato. I would have to say that the presentation and ingredients in this ceviche were nothing out of the ordinary. However, what set this ceviche apart from most others I've had was the leche de tigre marinade that the seafood was bathed in. Again, it was so good, I spooned it into a clam shell and proceeded to drink it by itself!
4. Papa a la Huancaina (7.50 USD): "Sliced boiled potato under a yellow fresh cheese sauce." I think it was A who ordered this appetizer. I believe this was one of the best huancaina sauces - a yellow chile and farmer's cheese sauce - that I've ever tasted. It had a flavor that was a lot bolder than most sauces I've tried.
5. Anticuchos de Carne (7.50 USD): "Peruvian shish kebob marinated with Peruvian spices." IM ordered this appetizer. Anticuchos de Carne are roasted slices of beef heart on a skewer. Again, Taste of Peru's anticuchos de carne were the best that I've ever had. The flavor of beef heart seemed like it was muted nicely: sometimes it can be overwhelming.
6. Papa Rellena (7.50 USD): Mashed potato stuffed with a mixture of seasoned rib eye steak, walnuts, eggs, raisins, and olives. A ordered this dish. I didn't try any of it because everyone gobbled it up before I could extend my fork! I was too slow, ha ha!
7. Cau-Cau (12 USD). A traditional Peruvian dish made out of honeycomb tripe stew, cooked in mint and Peruvian spices, and served with potatoes and white rice. I have real respect and a soft spot in my heart for humble dishes like Cau-Cau, which can be found in every culture. The Cau-Cau was hearty and rich, with a complex flavor of spices including mint, which shone through brilliantly and quite unexpectedly. The tripe was cooked so long, it was very soft - almost gelatinous. Honestly, I could have kept on eating more and more of it - moreish as heck!
8. Jalea al Estilo Peruano (19.75 USD): Fried & breaded corvina, squid, mussels, octopus, shrimp, and scallops. Served with corn and sweet onion marinated in lime. This is a dish that A and NM ordered for their main. They allowed the rest of us to dig in since they were stuffed by the time the fried seafood platter arrived. I thought the breading was spot-on as well as the doneness of the cooked seafood. The onion, which was marinated in leche de tigre, was a great accompaniment to the fried seafood. One more thing: I especially enjoyed the fried yuca, which I prefer to French fries any ol' day.
And finally, 9. Helado de Lúcuma (lúcuma ice cream, 3 USD). I think this is the first time that I've tried lúcuma, a fruit native to Peru. It's sweet. It has a distinct fruity taste as well as a caramel flavor. I liked it.
Service was okay, albeit with a minor inconvenience. By the end of the meal, our server kind of disappeared. I even had to track him down for our bill. I guess they weren't too concerned
What a feast the five of us had!
The Bill: We split the bill five ways, which came out to 26.86 USD per person.
My Rating: A for-real out of four stars (excellent to outstanding on every level). If not for the less-than-perfect service, I would have awarded a solid four stars. Open Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 AM to 10 PM, and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 AM to 11 PM. Credit cards accepted. BYOB. www.tasteofperu.com
After dinner, my friends and I craved some baked goods. I particularly had a craving for white cake. On our way from the Rogers Park Metra station to Taste of Peru, we saw that there were a couple of panaderias - Latino bakeries - on Clark Street. We went into the first one on our way back to the train station: Panaderia Ayutla.
Just like the panaderias I was familiar with back in L.A., Panaderia Ayutla had a cornucopia of mainly Latino pastries, cakes, and breads baked daily. Also, the setup was the same: You pick up a tray and tongs at the register, load up your tray with goodies from the various cases, and return to the cash register to have your selections packaged and to settle your bill.
What I bought (and eventually ate):
A couple slices of strawberry white cake (3.49 USD each), a pastry cream-filled roll made from laminated dough (about 1 USD), a palmier or elephant ears (about 1 USD), and a huge checkerboard cookie (no photo, about 1 USD). My favorite was the pastry cream-filled roll followed closely by the strawberry white cake. It was so good to inject some buttercream frosting back into my system, let me tell you!
The Bill: 9.18 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (very good). Open every day, 5 AM to 10 PM. Credit cards accepted on purchases of 10 USD and up.
The Last Word ... Can't wait to see what I'll be eating next? What a coincidence, me too!
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