If you have ever taken one of Steve N.’s spin classes at the Encinitas YMCA, then you know how brutal his workouts are. Today’s class was especially horrible. During the last 5 minutes this morning, I was dying. I wanted to quit. I spat death rays from my eyes in Steve’s direction, hating him every time he joyfully told us to add gear. Only one thing kept me going…Tres Leches. Only one thing made me get up and push with every molecule in my being to finish strong. Tres Leches. With sweat flying off me in every direction, legs burning with a raging fire, I glanced over at Joyce after that last minute and whispered with the last ounce of breath left in me, “We did it”. We did it, for Tres Leches!
That same evening…
Something happens the minute you walk into Q’ero. I don’t know if it’s the small tables positioned cozily, but not crowded, together. Maybe it’s the authentic bottles of Peruvian wine on the shelves surrounded by South American art on the walls. It could be the colorful table coverings, or the exotic spices wafting from the kitchen. I suppose it’s the combination of it all. But when you walk in Q’ero, you are transported to a small, romantic village nestled within the mountains of Peru. I felt like we have eaten our way through all of the CTS’s along the 101 to finally arrive at the golden gates of Q’ero (Insert bright light and choir singing “Ahhhh”)
Let’s be honest. This ain’t my first rodeo people. We have been coming to Q’ero for special occasions since before it was even called Q’ero. It used to be called “Amici” and they only had this one location, not two. From the first time we came, we were in love. I enjoy cooking, and I cook a lot. So when I go out to eat, I want something special. I want to enjoy a meal where I can say at the end, “Now that is something I can not replicate myself.” That is what I get when I come to Q’ero.
Although I know about their delicious wines intimately, tonight was a sangria night. We ordered a pitcher.
One pitcher of sangria
The sangria was slightly sweet and refreshing. The fruit pieces were cut very small and we were all fishing through drained wine glasses with our forks to get to them. Some say tacky, I say resourceful.
The 5 of us decided to share everything family style. We ordered some of our go-to appetizers to start. The Calamari a la Diablada is our favorite thing on the menu. I crave this dish. I dream of this dish. No other calamari comes close. It’s a nice portion to share, though I wouldn’t have a problem with finishing my very own order. It’s that good.
Calamari a la Diablada
We also had to order the empenadas, duh. I told you we have been here before. Empenadas are a South American version of a Polish perogie or an Indian samosa. It’s a pastry filled with yummy stuff. We got one order filled with chicken.
Empenadas Saltena de Pollo
As delicious as these empenadas are, you have to eat them with their signature spicy Aji Panka sauce. It has a citrus flavor and is very hot. This sauce exudes greatness.
Aji Panka sauce
We got another order of empenadas filled with lentils. We also ordered one Pappa Relenna which is a mashed potato and ground beef filled pastry. All of these pastries paired perfectly with the Aji sauce.
The pastry on the vegetarian empenadas was a but crunchier and sweeter than the ones on the chicken version. Almost like a cookie. I preferred the chicken ones, but both were great. The morsels of beef inside the Pappa Relenna were very flavorful, but those chicken empenadas still ruled.
We asked our handsome server to please recommend some more food for us to share. He crouched down to our table and started speaking in what I can only call… music. His thick, Latin accent (I later learned it is Italian, but I don’t appreciate ruining my fantasy with details of reality) melted all three of us women at our table. I don’t even know what he was recommending. “Yes” I murmured. “Oh yes.” “Yes, YES!!” I heard in unison from both Joyce and Debbie. I had no clue what was coming next for dinner. Who cares.
Antonio (please say it slow, using the accent while reading His name) and Mama Carmen
Waiting for our meal, after a bit of sangria, I came to appreciate the art piece placed at our table. Seems nice.
But at eye level is this:
Mama needs a pedi!
The first thing we apparently agreed to, arrived at our table.
Ají de Gallina
One of the things I love about Peruvian food is how flavorful but still healthy it is. Many dishes are served with quinoa and dark leafy greens.
We also seemed to have agreed to the Sudado de Pescado.
Sudado de Pescado
I know there is fish and plantains in there, but no clue what other magic goes in. I was about to pour the quinoa and greens into the broth (seemed like a logical way to thicken it up before trying to split 5 ways) when out of nowhere, a hand slapped my hand! It was connected to Carmen, ruler of the kitchen. “No, no, no! You place a bit of quinoa on your plate first, and then gently invite the sauce to follow!”. So my clumsy American-esque way of dumping and scooping wasn’t appreciated here. We did it her way, and it was great!
Although we were getting full, we also seemed to have agreed on a final entree to share. Lomo Saltado, flank steak with tomatoes and onions.
This was just as delicious as everything else we ordered. We wanted another opportunity to use the Aji Panka sauce with the meal, but everything had so much flavor and spice, it didn’t need it.
There was only a piece of onion or two left on the plate when Carmen came back to collect it. Hubby wanted every last morsel, and literally reached out and smacked her hand! There was a lot of slapping going on at this meal. So far we have my hand getting slapped by Carmen, then Carmen getting slapped by Steve. It’s my turn to slap someone!
“Would you like to order some dessert?” massaged the words of Antonio into our ears.
Tres Leches Cake
Hubby was the only one who didn’t partake in this amazing end to our meal. He can’t get over the spongy, milky texture of Tres Leches to unleash the decadence of this dessert. As you can see, one piece is plenty to share for the 4 of us. And I would like to tell you that’s what we did. But I would be lying.
Here is the second piece of Tres Leches cake we ordered. It’s the most comforting, pure, milky vanilla dessert I have ever had. Topped to perfection with whipped cream and berries. Worth every calorie. You saw all the greens in the quinoa we had with dinner…so all of the calories cancelled out anyway.
We women weren’t the only ones smitten with Antonio. As we were leaving I noticed he and Hubby in a deep man-brace saying good-bye.
Do: Go to Q’ero for a special occasion. Hire a sitter, and have that needed romantic dinner.
Don’t: Go with a large crowd. This location is quite small and they don’t take reservations.
Do: Start with the Calamari a la Diablada and finish with the Tres Leches Cake. Anything you order in between will be great.
Don’t: Expect to get away cheap. You and I can’t make at home what they are offering, so if you want it, you gotta pay for it.
Do: Get two bottles of Aji Panka sauce to go. One for you, and one for the sitter. There is always a jar in my fridge for frittatas, baked potatoes and soups.
Do: Come here for the servers. Hubba-hubba.
Tomorrow’s blog will be postponed until I’m not sick and can taste again.
Next week’s blog will be on Sunday, November 12th, at Better Buzz Coffee, 8:00 am. Please join us for coffee, breakfast and friendship!