Chow, Baby: Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Waaaay Down South

Last month, singer Alanis Morissette ended a concert in Lima, Peru, with the shout, “Thank you, Brazil!” This got Chow, Baby to wondering two things: Was Alanis hitting the Pisco (Peruvian brandy) a little too hard that night? And shouldn’t Chow, Baby, who adores Brazilian dishes, oughta know Peruvian cuisine as well?

Serendipity strikes again. Magnolia Eatery, home of the greatest salads in the hospital district, has just begun serving the modern-day ambrosia of the Incas (most Thurs-Sat evenings; best to call ahead, 817-335-1770, before you go). Chow, Baby’s four-course gustatory expedition ($15) began with a nip of Pisco sour as its research assistant yadda-yadda’d about Brazilian cooking, with its spicy African and Caribbean influences, versus Peruvian, where Incan maize and root vegetables and fish met Spanish conquerors in the 1500s (cilantro, rice, sugar cane) and Chinese immigrants in the mid-1800s (stir-fry, more cilantro). This was all very interesting, but the proof of Peruvian is in the eating.

First up was causa, chilled whipped potatoes with a delightfully light, fresh citrus-and-peppers dressing. Next, ocopa, boiled potato in a delightfully light, fresh, creamy peanut sauce. Chow, Baby could see a couple of themes developing here. The traditional Peruvian anticucho, skewered ox hearts, was alas not on the menu, but a light and fresh version of beef fajitas and a fabulously flaky garlic-baked catfish both were, well, delightfully light and fresh. Even the finishing bread pudding had an airiness to it. The whole meal left Chow, Baby with one thought in mind: “Thank you, Brazil!”

Mysteries of the Orient

Remember last week, when Chow, Baby was visiting Pho Pasteur and noted some other interesting-looking places in the strip mall at W. Pioneer Pkwy. and Center St.? Vua Khô Bò is one of them. Walk in (Wed-Mon), and at first glance this brand-new mart is a deli out of Middle America: black-and-white linoleum floor, shiny deli cases in the corner, a few Ace Mart tables and chairs by the window.

But that aroma isn’t Boar’s Head; it’s — actually, Chow, Baby has no idea what it is. It wafts from the deli cases, the first of which displays more than a dozen kinds of jerky (about $20/lb): beef jerky, teriyaki beef jerky, fruited beef jerky, deer jerky, squid jerky, most offered in varying degrees of spiciness. The next case contains vats of pickled fruits and vegetables ($7-$9/lb): mango, olives, guava, and more, again in varying degrees of spiciness. Finally, there’s the dried-food section ($7-$20/lb): tamarind-crusted fruits, crystallized ginger, chunks of something or other encased in fuzzy stuff, the cutest teeniest dried shrimp dusted with sesame seeds.

The staff is very friendly to newbies and generous with free samples; the international point-taste-nod system overcame any language barrier. Chow, Baby bought baggies of — actually, other than the shrimp, Chow, Baby has no idea what it bought. But it’s all good.

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