2940 S. Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis, 612-822-2125
Review published October 2004
To visit the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, tucked in the Peruvian Andes, you have a few choices. You can spend four days hiking a winding mountainous path, sucking thin air at 9,000 feet, and waking up in the jungle blackness at 2 a.m. Or take the bus. While you wipe sweat off your brow and rub your blistered soles, you may curse the camera-toting tourists—still slumbering—who will later board their modern, air-conditioned pack animal. But when you reach the summit and the dense morning fog lifts to reveal the ruins of the “city in the sky,” you’ll realize going the distance makes the peak seem that much more grand.
Machu Picchu—the Twin Cities’ only Peruvian restaurant—took the long route. The Palomino family left Lima in 1970 to settle in the United States, moving first to New York, then to Minnesota. Fernando Palomino’s mother had a restaurant in Peru, and it was his dream to do the same here. Since 1993, Fernando and his wife, Hilda, have run the kitchen (their daughter, Carla, manages), and the restaurant has kept a lower profile than many of its trendy Lyn-Lake neighbors. Take away the paintings of marketplace plazas and men leading llamas, and the interior is rather generic: an Embers-esque “Please Wait to be Seated” sign, padded vinyl chairs, pink napkins, and fake plants. But focus on what’s inside the embossed leather menus, because this is where the Palominos put their effort.
Start with an appetizer, perhaps a ceviche and a pisco sour (Peru’s national drink—a sassy grape brandy beverage topped with a cloud of white foam and a sprinkle of cinnamon). Or the empanadas, meat-filled pockets plunged in the deep fryer until their skins are crisp and puffy. The ground beef may look like standard-issue hot dish filling, but it has absorbed the savory flavors of onions, cumin, and Peruvian peppers, which counter nicely the tinge of sweet raisin and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Since Peru borders the Pacific, the menu focuses on fresh seafood dishes: steamed halibut, Peruvian paella, and a number of shellfish combinations sauced with onions, tomatoes, and white wine. The Sudado de Mariscos mixes plump prawns with tender loops of squid, gaping clams, and sweet crab legs—like a South American bouillabaisse. It’s served with basmati rice and a lemony tomato broth flecked with cilantro that has a slightly smoky finish.
Gringos may be taken aback by the French fries in Machu Picchu’s stir fries, called saltados. The practice may seem akin to tossing a handful of chicken nuggets in the moussaka, but according to Fernando, it’s traditional to Peru. And actually, broccoli florets with French fries taste pretty good. Who knew?
There are a couple traditional foods absent from the menu—beef heart and guinea pig. Fernando says he can prepare them on request; most come from people who have made the trek to his homeland and appreciate getting off the beaten path.