Attention Peru abroad members: there is a restaurant in St. Louis where you can experience the cuisine of Peru before you even travel abroad. I stumbled across Mango while reading a St. Louis food magazine called Sauce, and I’ve been drooling ever since. Mango is located in a strip mall on the outskirts of St. Louis. With a group of girlfriends and an empty stomach, I ventured into the world of the culinary unknown.

The restaurant is next to a beauty salon and a Chinese food take-out joint, but once you walk through the door, you forget about all of that. The dining room uses mood lighting, warm colors, and guitar music to make the place inviting and elegant.  Seated in the middle of the room, we were served plantain chips and a green sauce while we looked over the menu.

From that first bite, I was hooked on Peruvian food. The plantains looked like banana chips, but had a starchier texture and savory taste. The sauce was made from cilantro, garlic, lemon, and olive oil, pureed into an herby, fresh liquid of the gods. The only low point about the chips was that the restaurant has a one basket per table rule. Otherwise we might have eaten till the cows came home.

Quick factoid: Food magazines are calling Peruvian cuisine a rising star in the culinary world. Imagine Spanish/Incan/African/Asian/Italian cuisine all wrapped into one, tied off with a bow of refinement. From starter to dessert, each dish had heart and flavor with an element of brightness. The food was able to stand on its own, and did not need multiple flavors to make it delicious. It rocked the simplicity of one main flavor.

We each ordered our own starter and, as friends do, had bites of each other’s so everyone could have a taste. I ordered the papa a la huancaina, which consisted of potato and egg atop a piece of romaine, covered with an aji amarillo cheese sauce with pieces of olive decorating the top. The sauce was made from feta cheese, condensed milk, lemon and aji amarillo peppers, with all of the ingredients working together harmoniously. The whole table agreed that the dish was excellent and had the feeling of a gourmet potato salad. The salty, lemon-infused sauce was so heavenly, I even ate the piece of lettuce on the plate just to soak up the sauce. Of the other starters, the empanada, a puff pastry filled with beef, raisins, olives, and peppers, was excellent. The meat was well seasoned, and because it was so simple, we could really enjoy the beef flavor.

For an entrée, a friend and I split the pollo en salsa de mango, which is a marinated chicken breast adorned with a mango salsa, with sides of potato and rice. It is very rare for me to touch a starchy side, since they always seem to be bland and not as exciting as the entrée. This dish proved me wrong, with the rice and little crispy potato just as delicious as the chicken. This dish was amazing in its simplicity. The chicken was properly cooked and tender with a marinade of lemon, salt, and pepper. The salsa was a simple mix of mango, leeks, and red bell peppers cooked in their juices with lemon. So pure and clean, and definitely not what I was expecting from the cuisine. My other two guests ate anticuchos de corazon, which was a chicken kabob that came with a citrus sauce with an element of heat that worked harmoniously with the chicken.

We ended our meal with two desserts, the rice pudding and a family recipe torta de chocolate, and a round of coffee. The rice pudding was oddly al dente but was pretty similar to any other average rice pudding. The chocolate torte, on the other hand, was moist and flavorful. The cake had an orange element to it that made it ten times better.

This was a perfect meal that made for an excellent evening. Mango is located at 7307 Watson Rd., Shrewsbury, Missouri, and is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. So take a trip down to South America and have a taste of something new: I promise you will enjoy every bite.

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