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This is my review of Contigo Perú, circa 2012, originally printed in the Salt Lake Tribune. The article no longer appears online, this is my original draft review of the restaurant (may contain typos and grammar errors!
“What the heck do you know about South American cuisine?”, “you’ve barely traveled farther South than Panguitch, let alone Peru.” In my case, it’d be a fair question. Luckily there exists those universal highs and lows that we all implicitly understand. For example, is there anyone who hasn’t become enraged by that maddeningly tacky patch left behind after pulling a sticky label all too hastily?
Similarly, do national borders even matter when appreciating the joys of a perfectly roasted chicken? Fresh from the oven, heavenly wafting scents, picking you up by the nose like a cartoon character. At Paulino’s Contigu Peru the roast chicken is formidable (available in sizes: Cuarto Pollo $7.49, Medio Pollo $11.99, Pollo Entero $22.99). I say this having never set so much as a knife and fork in South America. Served with thick cut home-style French fries, it’s irresistible comfort food in any number of languages.
Paulino’s is located in West Valley surrounded by a bevy of International dining destinations from Pakistan to Vietnam to Mexico – the focus here as you might have guessed from my preamble, is Peruvian cuisine.
The relatively small strip mall frontage of Paulino’s gives way to a surprisingly capacious room, decorated in that tell tale mish mash of furnishings that screams mom and pop – in all the right ways mind you; there’s nary a painfully hip, mustachioed interior designer in sight.
The dining room is a clean, comfortable and functional space, a bar and stage area occupying two of the walls. Seat yourself and a server will be right to your table. While the team here are utterly friendly and well meaning, expertly drilled they are not. On one evening our waitress could offer no more than a smile and a shrug when asked about certain items from the menu, despite my Spanish-fluent companion’s best Sherlockian efforts.
Undeterred and ever the adventurer, I ordered the Papa Rellena ($4.99) with no more idea as to what to expect other than some educated debate. What came was something of a twice baked spud, mashed and reformed potato, stuffed with ground beef, vegetables and olives. Delicious, just be careful of those olives – they come pit and all.
Plenty of the menu is easily interpretable for even the most casual of international food fans. The classic Peruvian dish Ceviche, is available on menus all over town – fish ‘cooked’ in lemon or lime. The rendition here, Ceviche De Pescado ($12.99), is up with the very best; the fish supported by a deft balance of salt and acid, never threatening to overcook and toughen the meat. The modest price, like much of the menu, belies a generous portion size, easy enough for a group of two or three to share.
An appetizer of Yucca Frita ($5.99) makes for a good sidekick to order with the ceviche, deep fried wedges of yucca, an enjoyable textural offset; and for cultural brutes like myself, tailor made for dipping into the leche de tigre – the salty and tart marinade that’s the magic behind the ceviche.
Moving onto larger plates, Combinado Paulino ($18.99) makes life easier for the indecisive – a combination plate stacked with sliced yams, chunks of roast pork, a soft pork tamal, spiced and grilled anticuchos (beef heart) and papa a la huancaina – halved potatoes in a vivid yellow cheese sauce.
Tallarin Saltado De Carne ($10.99), a tangle of noodles with beef, onions and tomatoes was pleasant, a dish that anyone with a passing interest in chow mein will appreciate; just one of several Chifa dishes – reflecting the influence of Chinese immigration on Peruvian cuisine. In contrast, another noodle dish – Tallarin Verde Con Carne ($11.99) – nods to the Italian impressions upon Peru – a pounded flat steak served alongside a mass of spaghetti noodles bathed in a herbaceous sauce of spinach and basil, topped with parmesan.
Seco De Carne ($11.99) is another fine dish worth your time. A thick gravy studded with carrots, peas and cilantro supports meltingly-tender beef, hinting at a long stewing process. Served with white rice, yucca and hominy it’s a rustically-satisfying dish. Parillada Personal ($24.99) continues the meaty-menu trend, a sizzling platter of pounded flat chicken and steak, pork, four pieces of cabanossi – slice Peruvian sausage – plus salad and corn. Served on a piping hot metal skillet, it’s easily enough to feed the family.
Jalea Mixta ($18.99) proved one of only a few mis steps; a hefty mountain of deep fried seafood (scallops, prawn, fish, squid, mussels) encircles a bowl of more of that wonderful ceviche. Impressive in size and presentation, the dish faltered due to what seemed to be a one shoe fits all approach to the deep fryer; juicy pieces of tender white fish intermingled with tough morsels of unidentifiable ‘something’.
Tacu Tacu En Salsa De Marisco ($12.99) was eminently more impressive. The centerpiece of the dish – breaded and tender tilapia – came coated in a creamy, light terracotta hued seafood sauce. The finishing touch a flurry of mixed seafood with scallops, mussels, squid and prawns.
One Saturday evening’s entertainment at Paulino’s, was a perfect analogy for my whole experience at this enjoyable West side eatery. Taking to the stage, surrounded by a laser light show, the host’s banter with the gathered crowd was as mysterious to me as parts of the menu. Yet, with bags of welcoming charm, I only wanted to stay longer and get to know the details of this mom and pop business even more.
3411 S Redwood Rd, West Valley City, UT 84119
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