Saltado and waffles

Eaten at Mexican restaurants inside gas stations but, until recently, never eaten at a restaurant inside of another restaurant.

It’s not like Machu Picchu and its pleasurable and plentiful Peruvian fare is trying to hide. Fate just conspires against it.

First, it’s located on Fulton near Marconi. In addition, the restaurant in which Machu Picchu is located is camouflaged by a row of long-fronded palm trees. Not ideal for getting seen by drivers tooling down Fulton at 40 miles per hour.

Bright letters in smallish but readable print on a couple windows do proclaim “Peruvian.” But the neighboring pane reads “Mexican,” and the one next to that “American.” Who is the proprietress? Sybil? Far larger and more visible is the large sign “Waffle Kings.”

“Peruvian” could be easily missed.

Even after entering the roomy, tidy but Spartan Waffle Kings, Machu Picchu is nowhere to be found. Doesn’t it have its own corner?

The menu issued is that of Waffle Kings. There are 18 omelets, eight burgers and 20 sandwiches, all decidedly North, rather than Latin, American—but all priced to move.

The most expensive omelet, at $7.25, is the “Kings.” It’s crowded with ham, bacon, linguica, sausage, Ortegas, jack and cheddar cheese. (Couldn’t shoehorn in a fistful of onions?) Absolutely nada with an even remotely Latin lilt.

A desire to eat Peruvian food is expressed to Irene—“the Queen,” she says alliteratively. The Waffle Kings menu is replaced with that of Machu Picchu, where it says, somewhat redundantly, it is located inside Waffle Kings.

The attraction of Peruvian food is not the rekindling of a long-held love. It is an odyssey of discovery. In other words, never tried the stuff. A synthesis of Spanish imperialistic influence—Pizarro, what a pissant—and Inca tradition is the best guess going in. Further research proves that a fair summary.

Given this paucity of Peruvian experience, great deference is given to Irene’s expertise, which she delightedly imparts. The menu tags all of Peru’s culinary bases. A coastal nation, there is a large focus on devouring denizens of the deep. Machu Picchu offers ceviche, a dish of national popularity, and a tomatoey mixed fish soup called parihuela.

The most expensive entree, jalea mixta, is a mound of fried, breaded fish, shrimp, squids, scallops and mussels, sprinkled with corn, banana chips and fried yucca. The dish screams out for—as several others do—a healthy splash of what Elena, server on another visit, says is rocoto, the name of the pepper the lime-tinged salsa is made from. The Spanish didn’t bring this bell-pepper-looking sucker and its deceptively deep bite. Salsa criolla, a Peruvian table staple, another hit.

Irene suggests saltado, a style of cooking that can be applied to beef, chicken and vegetables. Slopped over french fries and white rice is the usual serving style, but Machu Picchu also lays it over spaghetti. It’s a stir-fry featuring onion, red bell pepper slivers and tomato wedges, fueled by garlic, cumin, some wine vinegar and a sprinkling of cilantro.

Less compelling is the aptly named arroz con pollo, with a richly flavored drumstick and thigh encamped beside an Everest of green rice. The menu-promised onions and cilantro are AWOL. Both the peas and carrot cubes painfully prefab. A brief shock as the accompanying boiled potatoes, swimming in creamy huancaina sauce—milk, aji amarillo peppers, queso and nuts for thickening—turn out to be cold. Some advance knowledge of Peruvian food would have caused the shock to be avoided.

Sample the fruity chicha morada, a cinnamon and quince kick-started drink of purple maize, pineapple and apple.

Both Irene and Elena insist there are plenty more delicious Peruvian dishes to be discovered. Keep a seat open.