Monday, March 25, 2013

Mama Irma's Peruvian Restaurant

I don't know why I had resisted eating at Mama Irma's, the Fountain Square restaurant that prides itself on serving authentic Peruvian food, until last week. As someone who loves food and lives nearby, I should have been there on opening weekend a year and a half ago. I think memories of the past "Peruvian" food I'd tried held me back. I'd just never had a good experience with the cuisine. Well, that's all changed now, and I really wish I had tried Mama Irma's earlier!

As soon as my friend and I entered the small but brightly painted restaurant, we felt right at home. The owner of the place, Hilda Cano, greeted us and then showed us to our table, laughing and joking along the way. Hilda is friendly and warm, and the enthusiasm she has for her Peruvian culture and the recipes she learned from her mother (the titular Mama Irma) is infectious. I felt like I had just stepped into her house as a welcome guest.

After scanning the menu—which includes appetizers such as potato cakes and stuffed avocados, a variety of salads, lots of seafood (including ceviches), plus quite a few steak and chicken dishes—I felt spoiled for choice. Of course, Hilda was happy to give me a few suggestions! She went into great detail on the many delicious ways the kitchen could prepare the fresh flounder, the special fish of the day. She was even open to adjusting any of the dishes to my taste.

Ultimately, I ordered the seco de res, a cilantro-base beef stew served with white rice, beans, and onion salad (although I was intrigued by a pasta dish that was described as "chicken lo mein Peruvian style").  To really get into the Peruvian spirit, I decided to pair it with an Inca Kola, a bright yellow drink that tasted like a lemony cream soda.

My friend ordered the ceviche mixto with shrimp for his meal. Having ordered the ceviche at Mama Irma's in the past, he requested it mildly spiced; he had ordered it hot before, and it was a little too hot for his taste. He also ordered a glass of the homemade chicha, a drink made from purple corn, pineapple juice, and spices.

Let's cut to the chase: I loved every single thing I tried.

My seco de res was amazing! The stewed beef was incredibly tender and perfectly seasoned. I hate to write that it "melted in my mouth," but, well, it kind of did. Hilda even took the time to show me the proper way to eat the dish (you've got to get a little bit of each thing—the beef, the onions, and the beans—on the fork all at the same time for each bite). The ceviche was the best I've had in ages, fresh and citrusy as ceviche should be. It was served with hominy, yucca, potato, and some pan-roasted corn (basically homemade corn nuts). Even the chicha, which was a slightly off-putting shade of purple, was surprisingly tasty, sweet but not overpoweringly so. I kind of wish I had ordered it to drink instead of my Inca Kola, actually.

Just as I was sitting back to rub my full belly, Hilda mentioned dessert. I didn't even notice the dessert list on the menu, but as soon as she described her world-famous, made-in-house alfajores cookies, I was sold. She said that customers have driven from as far away as Toledo just to get them. When she brought out my cookie, I was not disappointed. It was basically a light sandwich cookie that tasted like two very delicate shortbread cookies with dulce de leche in between and dusted with powdered sugar. If only I'd had a glass of milk with it.

Just thinking about Mama Irma's has got my mouth watering. Let's see, I don't think I have any dinner plans...

Mama Irma Peruvian on Urbanspoon