Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Peruvian food in Shrewsbury

In celebration of my taxes getting filed, plus the only evening this week that I have to myself, I went out to a Peruvian restaurant called "Mango" in the St. Louis suburb of Shrewsbury, MO. I had only been there once before, quite a while ago, and all I remembered about it was an impression of some kind of pasta. I thought it might be nice to give it another try.

Mango is a small place in a strip mall off Watson Road called McKenzie Point. It is decorated in reds and golds, with a prominent display of wine bottles (and an interesting list of wines, beers, and other stimulating drinks). There is a bar along one side of the place, and tables and booths in light muted by the wooden window blinds. Near the hostess' podium a large arrangement of wax (?) fruit stands atop a wooden barrel. The tables are all covered with white cloth, plus a protective sheet of white paper on top. As soon as you sit down, without your even asking, they serve you a glass of water (which does get refilled, also without your asking), a generous dish of plantain chips, a small cup of a kind of runny guacamole, and a "spider dish" of a unique dip that looks like salsa (chunks of tomato and onion) but has a lemony bite.

The menu is attractive, with enough dishes on it to offer a variety without overwhelming you. The prices are a bit higher than you would like to spend every day, but for special occasions you can live with them.

Tonight I started with a Tamal. Like its Mexican cousin, the Peruvian tamal is a cylindrical cake of steamed cornbread with pork down the center. Only, instead of a corn husk, it came wrapped in a square piece of banana leaf. Plus, it contained chunks of peanut and stuffed, green olive. Plus, there was a pile of hot-and-sour shaved pickled onion on the side. It was very interesting. But also tasty!

For my main course, I ordered something called Lomo Saltado. It turned out to be a huge pile of juicy steak, cut into short, approximately bite-sized strips, mixed with pieces of grilled tomato, onion, and pepper that had a surprising amount of crispness left in them, without seeming at all "undercooked." About four steak fries were scattered over the top, which at first seemed disappointing until I discovered more fries under & in the beef-and-veg mix. With a scattering of herbs and a dark, savory sauce in which I suspected the presence of wine, it was comparable to fajitas but much, much better. Plus, on the side was a beautiful mound of sticky white rice, molded into a cylinder with a smooth, concave top and scattered with a few kernels of corn, chunks of red bell pepper, and crumbled green herbs. The bottom of this rice tower soaked up the extra sauce from the Lomo Saltado, a combination that tasted great.

Besides water, I drank a can of Inca Kola on the rocks. The "golden kola" looks like Mountain Dew and tastes like Cream Soda. It's the first Peruvian soft drink I've ever had, so don't knock it. I wasn't in the mood for alcohol.

Finally, I decided to go "whole hog" and have dessert. Believe it or not, I don't do this often. But the chocolate torta sounded too good to refuse, and it was. The chocolate cake wasn't sliced very thick, but it didn't have to be; it was huge. Oozing heavy, dark-chocolate frosting (practically fudge), served on a plate drizzled with chololate syrup, and garnished with two blobs of whipped cream and a cherry, it was a rich finish for a hearty supper.

It was fairly quiet at Mango this evening. I don't know if that means that more people need to discover this small fine-dining spot. Maybe you're just licking your wounds after a visit to H & R Block. But I daresay this Peruvian cuisine would help get the taste out of your mouth.

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