While I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Fieri’s bleached blonde locks and frequent appearances in Applebee’s commercials, I readily admit that he knows his casual eateries. As Fieri suggests in his show’s title, Taste of Peru is a bit of a dive. The seedy atmosphere, however, does not reflect on the food. Sarah and I split an appetizer of Ceviche Especial, a traditional South and Central American dish of raw seafood served with onions, lime juice and spices. The featured creatures here are fresh grouper, Gulf shrimp, bay scallops, calamari and octopus with corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes served on the side. The taste of lime was a little overwhelming, but on the whole it complemented the fresh seafood. Be warned though: While this dish it tasty, it's pretty acidic. The lime-onion combination is not for everyone, but if you've tried ceviche before and liked it, this dish will put you in ceviche nirvana. Furthermore, the portion was large enough that it could be a meal on its own. My entreé was rich, though not as filling or strongly flavored as the appetizer. I had the Lomo Saltado, allegedly the restaurant’s No. 1 bestseller and Guy Fieri’s personal favorite. Lomo Saltado consists of strips of beef sautéed with tomatoes, onions and French fries, all served on a bed of sweet rice. The meat was very flavorful, though much subtler in almost every way than the ceviche. Also, the French fries were an interesting touch, but they were unsalted and thus came off a little bland. That said, I can see why Lomo Saltado is the top seller. It’s a great gateway meal into South American cuisine.
Despite the high quality of the food, Taste of Peru’s service almost makes the eating experience worthless. I’m honestly not sure what their problem was. The restaurant is obviously not understaffed. A number of waiters and waitresses buzzed around the restaurant throughout our meal attending to what seemed to be everyone but us. Early on, before the dinner rush hit, the service was, at most, average, but the moment there were more than four occupied tables in the room, everything went to hell. The instant our entrées were delivered, we never saw our waitress again. It took almost 20 minutes from the time we flagged her down for our bill (which in and of itself took some time) until we received it.
If you read Table for Two often, you know how I feel about kitsch. Fortunately, Taste of Peru has a redemptive amount. Its interior reminds me of the pleasantly run-down Mexican dives of my home state of Texas: sticky vinyl seats, Incan blankets under glass on the tabletops, posters of Peruvian landmarks and locals on the wall and, oddly, a number of beetles and colorful butterflies in glass cases. However, Taste of Peru's interior walks a dangerous line between kitsch and crap. It’s hard to tell which side it’s on at any given moment. It is a dive, as Mr. Fieri suggests, and while that shouldn’t scare you away, it is something you should know before going in.
Date Factor (3/5)
The interior may be seedy and the service sub-par, but there’s no denying that Taste of Peru has some amazing, authentic food. The quality of our meal made the date worth it to me, but I’m not sure I’ll be going back anytime soon. If you and your date have an evening with nothing to do and a little gastronomic adventure sounds to your liking, Taste of Peru is probably worth your time. Just don’t go in expecting to eat without a little frustration in the process. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.Her Take:
Taste of Peru is a truly authentic Peruvian restaurant, and its food reflects that beautifully. John and I shared the Ceviche Especial for an appetizer. If you like ceviche, you’ll love Taste of Peru’s version of this South American classic. Unfortunately, I am not a huge ceviche fan. For my entrée, I ordered the Arroz con Pollo, Peruvian chicken and rice. The massive (and mountain-like) serving size justifies this plate’s $12 price. Large chunks of chicken are cooked with rice in a cilantro-based sauce. This dish is surprisingly green in appearance, making it look even more like a springtime mountain. The chicken is very tender and flavorful from a lengthy cooking time, but it is not devoid of the occasional bone. These bones must be picked out of the chicken pieces and disrupt the overall coherence of the dish. The rice, saturated with a scrumptious cilantro sauce, provides a delicious foundation for this plate. However, the occasional overcooked grain of rice pervades this dish, also destroying the textural uniformity. Due to the disappointingly erratic textures, the authentic flavors of Taste of Peru’s Arroz con Pollo were the main source of my satisfaction with this dish.
In terms of service, I don’t think I have ever been to a worse restaurant in my life. As we were seated, the waitstaff was attentive enough, but as our dining experience wore on, the service deteriorated exponentially. I will admit that the restaurant did grow busier as we dined, but Taste of Peru’s waiters are mediocre at best and incompetent at worst. Throughout our meal, they rarely checked on us, and we waited more than 20 minutes for our bill after boxing up our leftovers. The bill's arrival did not end our waiting, however, for another 10 minutes passed before the waitress returned the credit card. John and I spent about 45 minutes eating and 30 minutes settling the bill, which is simply unacceptable. If you are even slightly sensitive to the quality of service at a restaurant, I would be extremely hesitant to suggest you try Taste of Peru.
Taste of Peru is a homey South American locale. Maps and photo collages of Lima are tastefully displayed on the walls and Incan blankets cover the tables. Spanish is spoken more frequently than English, and soft Latin guitar music hums in the background. Visually and aurally, this restaurant embodies its cultural roots. The only aspect of Taste of Peru that made me uncomfortable was the painting of the suffering Christ that stared at me as I chewed my chicken. Otherwise, Taste of Peru is pleasantly ethnic with a decent atmosphere.
Date Factor (2/5)
Although Taste of Peru is a perfectly acceptable restaurant in terms of food and atmosphere, the atrocious service would make me wary of calling it a date-worthy restaurant. The physical space is date-friendly, but Taste of Peru is definitely a risk. On the plus side, Taste of Peru has a BYOB policy, so if you decide to brave the inattentive waiters, be sure to bring along a bottle of wine to share. If your desire to dine on authentic Peruvian food outweighs the risk of being blatantly ignored by the waitstaff, give Taste of Peru a try.
For us, eating at Taste of Peru was risky business. But something keeps Chicagoans coming back to this authentic eatery. Our guess is that it’s the food and not the service. If you’ve had an experience at Taste of Peru, or if you have any suggestions for future date spots, leave us a comment below. Don’t forget to start looking for that perfect Valentine’s Day restaurant!