The LomoEvery other winter or so, my grandmother Charlotte used to take the whole family on a cruise. A mainstay of these trips was the array of tricks and showmanship put on by the talented wait staff. Now, it's been quite some time since a waiter has made the wine cork appear from behind my ear or since my napkin has been folded into every type of zoo animal, but when I met Cesar Izquierdo this past weekend, that all changed. This jack of all trades plays the role of host, maitre d, entertainer, and bus boy (he also happens to be the owner). With his Peruvian spinning top tricks and array of witty cracks, it's no surprise that Cesar has been so successful with his Rogers Park hot spot that is Taste of Peru (www.tasteofperu.com).
By the looks of it, you'd never know to stop at Taste of Peru, but in this quiet Rogers Park strip mall next to an Asian laundromat lies about ten tables and a family bringing traditional Peruvian fare to the Chicagoland area. Now even though it's small, they take reservations and have two large tables meant for group feasting. Without a reservation Finkle, Schneider and I were still able to get seated after about a half hour. Additionally, this place is BYOB. When I most definitely come back, I'm gonna do it the right way with about 10 friends and a case of beer. Another logistical heads up... leave your jacket in the car and wash your clothes soon after eating. I haven't smelled like my dinner this much since Cemitas Pueblas, but I couldn't have been happier to have been so thoroughly engrossed in that Peruvian aroma.
The FoodNow normally in order to stay on a relative budget I stick to one main entree hoping that everyone will share and I'll get a good feel for what the restaurant has to offer. However, the appetizers and desserts were so cheap at Taste of Peru we had a "real person's meal" instead of my usual meager, student loan funded bites. We started by sharing a Peruvian Tamale (filled with olives and chicken) and a Beef Empanada (each cost around $3). This was an excellent start to our meal even though the variety of Paellas and Ceviches, that could each serve about 10 people, seemed to be the most popular options (I understandably strayed from the treif but would recommend that you all try it).
So for my entree I had the Fried Fillet of Grouper in a garlic sauce served with a Peruvian salad and rice. It was delicious, flaky, and covered in a bunch of spices I'd never really tried before but can't wait to try again, but the real star of the meal was what my two companions got, The Lomo. This best selling dish is really just beef strips sauteed with french fries, tomatoes, and onions, but the beer sauce made me want to forge a trade mid meal.
Finally, for desert we had the Peruvian versions of Flan, Rice Pudding, and Fried Plantains. These were all also for around $3 and were a refreshing and scrumptious end to the meal.
I realize that the food description is long, but that is only because each dish deserve such honorable mention. What it all boils down to is that the Taste of Peru is built around having a good time with your friends. Odds are you'll all have a blast trying a new type of food, enjoying the atmosphere (thanks to Cesar), taking advantage of the BYOB, and getting these meals built for sharing. Also, it won't cost you all that much. So for a meal that will leave a delicious taste in your mouth and a smell on your clothes stronger than after anatomy lab, head up north to hit up the Taste of Peru.