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Brooklyn, New York
March 23, 2006
I barely managed to stumble into this sanctuary just 1 block from our hotel/hostel—not because I was pleasantly intoxicated, mind you, but because my intensifying altitude sickness was about to hurl me to the floor pleading for mercy (really!). My paper-white face huddled in my shaking hands, Danny had to ask for coca tea, a supposed cure-all for the gringo sickness.Before our concerned waiter, Yuri, could eagerly deliver the tea, he brought a handful of muña leaves; I was supposed to crush the leaves and inhale their scent. After doing so, the color came rushing back to my normally pink cheeks. I would have graciously greeted Yuri’s concern with smiles and thank-yous (even if we were the only customers) if I hadn’t felt like the Incan gods were exuding their full wrath upon my head.Since I only managed a few spoonfuls of vegetable soup that day, A Mi Manera called for another visit… well, two more visits. Actually, our second visit occurred that very same day for dinner. And although I wasn’t my normal happy-go-lucky self yet, I did manage to look somewhat less possessed.
On doctor’s orders for light food intake, I ordered the subtly spiced chicken dieta soup and a side of pollenta grillada, grilled polenta with softly cooked bell peppers and capers. I didn’t finish my tiny meal, but it was hard to leave the delicately soft polenta behind.The third time, always the charm, we arrived for our last dinner in Cusco. By this time I was almost bright-eyed, but now Danny was suffering from a sketchy turkey sandwich at Machu Picchu. Of course, now that I was feeling more like myself, I ordered more than my stomach could handle.First was the chicha morada, the purple-corn juice we had gulped in Lima. This chicha, though, was slightly different—a frothy blended version that was much tarter than the sometimes too-sweet chicha of Lima. For my course du jour, I opted for the chicken with two sauces, one chocolate and one a plasma-green concoction, topped off with sublimely fresh grapes. The practically florescent sauce lightly flavored the perfectly done chicken with subtle notes of herbs, while the chocolate one had a much thicker flavor than, say, Hershey’s syrup.Again, the service was astounding. Our waiter, sadly not Yuri, swapped the chicken topping from red peppers to grapes without raising an eyebrow, and the cooks dished up some superb yucca frita, even though it wasn’t listed as a side dish. At the end, we were offered a tequila-like drink on the house, which we quickly declined due to our beer-and-wine-only mentality.The food was first-rate, subtly spiced, perfectly cooked, and truly inventive. Yet, we came three times in 3 days for the cheerful friendliness, gracious service, and Yuri, who flashed a beaming smile upon our second return, greeting us like old Peruvian friends.
From journal Cusco: Am I in England?
Todmorden, England, United Kingdom
October 29, 2005
From journal Trapped in and around Cusco