The first restaurant recommended to me after I started Whiskey and Soba was Mango, a Peruvian restaurant downtown, just off Washington. I'd never been there and I'd never heard of it, so I pushed it down my list and sort of forgot about it. How foolish of me. Then, late last week, I had a vision: I must have South American food! I think it was all the talk of Brazil and the World Cup, plus the hot, disgusting St. Louis weather. What South American restaurant was left on my "Need to Try" list? Mango.
A bowl of crunchy, slightly banana-flavored plantain chips with salsa verde arrived at our table as we were seated and disappeared before we even looked at the menus. The salsa verde, made of cilantro, onion, garlic, aji amarillo, citrus juice, and olive oil, was incredible. If people hadn't been around, I would have poured it straight into my mouth. Instead, I just used a spoon.
We had 3 bowls of chips and I feel no shame.
Enticed by the plates we were seeing around us, we immediately ordered some of starters to share. The first was the Jalea ($10), a mix of fried calamari, fish and shrimp with an aji amarillo mint aioli. I misread the menu when I ordered this, actually. In my head, I was ordering some kind of mixed seafood fried balls. I obviously am not good at reading. Fried food, however, is always good, so the mistake wasn't a painful one. The star was the aioli though, which lead to my discovery of the night: Peruvians make damn good sauces and dips.
Sweet plantains ($5) came next. Then they were gone. Get them.
I didn't really get to eat the next two dishes, but I was told they were good. The anticuchos ($8) were surprisingly large grilled chicken skewers served with Andean corn and another great dipping sauce. The least touched dish of the night--not because it was bad, but because everything else was so good--was the Ensalad Exotica ($5 small/$7 large). The small size was still big and was bursting with summery flavors. Mixed greens were tossed with cilantro, roasted peppers, fresh mangos, almonds, and a citrus dressing.
This next one may have been the dish of the night. A traditional Peruvian ceviche "Mixto" with freshly squeezed citrus juice, cold-cured fish, shrimp, mussels, octopus, peppers, onion, garlic and cilantro for $16. I don't think I've ever been to a restaurant where I was given this big of a portion of ceviche, nor can I remember having one this tasty.
The two main courses we ordered we there Pescado a lo Macho ($28) and the Saltado de Langostinos ($19). The Pescado A Lo Macho was roasted Mahi Mahi, mussels, bay scallops, calamari, and shrimp in a fiery aji rocoto sauce, served with white rice and vegetables. The seafood was all fresh and perfectly cooked, but once again the sauce stole the show. I'm not exaggerating here. If you like the flavors of Latin America, you will love these sauces.
My entree for the evening was the Saltado de Langostinos, a dish of shrimp, sweet onions, tomatoes, aji amarillo, and cilantro sautéed in white wine and olive oil. It came with white rice on the side and steak fries on top. I had no idea that some countries put french fries on top of their dishes. Brilliant. I'm going to start finishing all the dishes I cook with fries.
Between the two mains, I definitely preferred this one. The dish felt light, summery and healthy. Its flavors reminded me of being in another country (Peru, I assume). What more could one be looking for at an authentic international restaurant than to be transported there?
Aya Sofia is my go-to restaurant for a nice Turkish meal and Mango will be my go-to restaurant for a nice South American meal. The flavors are bright, the portions are large and everything we ate was cooked perfectly. I loved it and I can't wait to get back to try more. I spied two dishes on neighboring tables I must try: the Causa de Salmon and the Lomo Saltado. Mango, I'm very happy we have found each other.
1101 Lucas Ave
St. Louis, MO