(Note: An old post from a previous board... just priming the pump a bit!)
Though we suffered a bit of last-minute attrition,the feast at Contigo Peru was a great time. Chris (chrislee) came along, it was great to meet Ric and Bobbi, and since Mike (Mike Todd) joined me at Rincon Peruano on the Peruvian blitz a few months ago, it was great to get him down to what ended up being the favorite. I believe he concurred wholeheartedly
I'm consistently impressed by how much care goes into these dishes. Big flavor, (mostly) great ingredients, lovely presentations, friendly family running the place... other than slightly lower prices, it's absolutely everything I look for in a little ethnic joint. And I'm not knocking the value one bit. I think the prices are absolutely justified. I just wouldn't term them "cheap eats" (though they do an $8 lunch special that I haven't yet tried).
Since Mike had never been and Ric and Bobbi had only visited once, we did a mix of old favorites and new dishes.
I still hadn't tried Contigo's version of this until yesterday. It's boiled potato, sliced and smothered in a spicy cheese sauce. The comparison to nacho cheese is, I suppose, kind of unavoidable. But whether or not there's direct lineage involved, I like to think of this as the delicious traditional dish that served as the inspiration for the bastardized Americanized version. This actually had a little zip, which Chris and I were discussing seems to make all the difference. I've had this a few times before, but I've rarely enjoyed it as much. Without the spice, it just comes off as sort of decadently cheesy. The aji makes a big difference.
We'd tried the causa with chicken salad on previous visits, so we opted for the shrimp version this time. Though I think I actually prefer the other -- there's something so delightfully incongruous and exciting to me about chicken salad sandwiched between potatoes seasoned with lime and aji. It's more of the crazy natural fusion that I love about Peruvian. But that's not to take anything away from this version, which substituted shrimp salad and a grilled shrimp on top.
I've tried the mixed ceviche before, and I think I prefer the plain fish version. Great flavor, strong acidity that's balanced by the sweet potato. The only complain, as before, is that I wish they'd use something other than tilapia. This is, admittedly, one of the few contexts in which I think tilapia can be okay, but it's still the boneless skinless chicken breast of the piscine world.
This is one I've been dying to try for a long time, and it was really nice. Basically, it came across as a cioppino, which isn't the least bit surprising given the heavy Italian influences on Peruvian cuisine. It was a deep, tomato soup with oregano (I think) and perhaps some of the Peruvian mint. Chock full of seafood -- fish, squid, crab, mussels, clams, more I'm sure. A little spritz of fresh lime, and it was delicious.
Photo from a previous visit, here. We got this since Ric and Bobbi hadn't tried it on their previous visit, and I though Mike would enjoy the comparison to Rincon Peruano. It's such a low brow dish, but every time I have it here, I'm impressed by how nicely it's seasoned. They really do elevate something that's often just sort of a plain (if satisfying) starch and meat dish.
Tallarin is something I've never tried before. Partially because I've always understood it's pretty much straight-up Italian, and I've always kind of figured that I'd get that when I'm going for Italian. But it seemed about time. And it's pretty much what I expected - linguine in a thick, creamy pesto with a pounded, breaded and fried chicken cutlet and roasted potato. The chicken was actually really nice. Some herbs and seasonings in the breading, very thin and delightfully crisp. The pasta, less so. It was a heavy basil pesto that I think might have had some Peruvian mint, and the pasta was way overcooked by Italian standards (could be typical of Peruvian... I have no idea). But the chicken was great. I have to review the menu and see if they serve it along with anything else.
My favorite of the day was a new dish that Monica pointed out to us. The name would imply that it's sort of a signature dish, and it's deserving of the title. It's a fried fish fillet along with shrimp, bay scallops and fried yuca in a spicy sauce made with pisco. I have no idea what else is in there, but it's very reminiscent of Chinese, so I wonder if there are some crossover ingredients. The seafood was all fantastic, particularly the scallops which were beautifully tender. This is a really, really good dish. One of my favorites at the restaurant.
I couldn't resist the alfajores. I ordered on everyone's behalf. Caramel that's reminiscent of dulce de leche sandwiched between shortbread cookies and dusted with powdered sugar. Nothing not to like.
There's more on the menu to explore. This place is really a gem, and I'm anxious to get back.Contigo Peruwww.contigoperuaz.com
1245 W. Guadalupe Rd.
Mesa, AZ, 85202