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A good friend was slightly remorseful for having missed my birthday last summer. He offered to take me to the restaurant of my choice. I wanted something different. I had seen an ad in a St. Louis food magazine for a Peruvian restaurant in Fairview Heights, not far from where I live. My experiences with Peruvian food (Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago) were all positive. Both of our phone map apps took us to the same place, but we didn't see a restaurant. There were 12 gas pumps, and signage for a lounge inside, but no mention of a restaurant. And then we saw it -- a small (1 foot x 2 feet) neon sign to the left of the door and at ground level. We looked at each other to say, "Should we go into this convenience store for Peruvian food?"
Wow! I'm glad that we did. Past the small bar up front, which looked like a confessional, was the most incredible space. An entire wall of beers, most of them imports from all over the world, several, as you'd expect, from Peru. Why not? Our first surprise was the yucca fries, served with two different sauces. One had the consistency of mayonnaise but was pink and had some kick. The other sauce was more fluid and was white. Both were memorable. I had a "lomo saltado," a Peruvian stir-fry/fajitas with huge French fries buried inside. I mean, it was my birthday, right? My friend had some sort grilled chicken/steak combo, whcih was covered with vegetables and a hearty wine sauce.
Neither of us needed dessert, but Mr. Abraham insisted after he heard it was someone's birthday. He brought us "alfajor" on the house. It was a caramel-rich dulce de leche sandwiched in between two cornstarch cookies. You'd have to try it to understand how complex and delicious this creation was on my tongue. The moral of the story is never judge a book by its cover, or a restaurant by the fact that it's inside a Conoco gas station. You might miss one of your better meals.
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