It’s been in the works for months – my good friend and fellow foodie companion M and I have been planning a whirlwind foodie tour of Southern California. YEA! I think (but don’t quote me on this), it was hatched while watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” together … and the two of us remarking how much we’d love to visit Lisa Vanderpump’s sleek and elegant SUR restaurant. Don’t judge us – it’s the best show out there. Okay, well maybe not. But one thing lead to another….. ground rules were hatched (had to be a place that neither of us had ever visited – and we had to order items that we wouldn’t normally eat), and last Tuesday we made our first stop.
Q’ero, a quaint and cozy Peruvian restaurant situated on Encinitas’s Coastal Highway, has been on my and the Yank’s radar for a long time. We had just never gotten around to visiting. But everyone I spoke with raved about the food and ambiance, and M and I figured it would be a great first stop, especially when the BBQ place we were initially headed to, turned out to be WAY to far away, given our limited time. As we arrived a tad early for the 11:30 lunch service, we split our time between window shopping and desperately searching for a public restroom. Yes, four cups of coffee in the morning can be a tad excessive, but that’s just me. I snapped a final picture of our first pit stop (literally) while M remarked, “Let’s hope we don’t things in here.”
Um. Famous last words.
By 11:30 we were seated and enjoying the open windows and extremely comfortable feel of our corner table. It was beautiful – vibrant orange walls covered in colorful art and intricately detailed sculptures, vases, and mirrors. Green plants placed throughout added contrast and life. The space was intimate, but with natural light and and creative use of space, it was actually perfect.
After looking over the menu, we decided to be especially daring. “Order something you NEVER would typically get…you can have red potatoes at home…. something exciting!” I instructed M. She just looked at me, patient as ever, and trusted my judgement. We would both later be sorry.
We settled on Patacones (twice fried green plantains with sea salt) and Kiwicha (Amaranth cake with sautéed greens and sajta sauce) to start. Plantains are similar to bananas (in layman’s terms) and amaranth seemed to be similar to quinoa. The main dish we split – Pachamanca, essentially a pork-filled wrap marinated in various spices and braised, served with a sweet potato spread, red onion and mint.
The food itself was really great, delicious and beautifully served. I was surprised at the texture of the plantains (crunchy – but the taste wasn’t overwhelmingly banana, like I had assumed). It tasted starchy, but the flavors of sea salt and the sour cream and chives they added complimented it very well. We both enjoyed the Kiwicha – the spinach seemed almost to be sautéed in a white wine-type sauce…that would be the sajta (told you I’m a quick study)… And the main pork wrap was awesome – tender and juicy – and the sweet potato spread was great at keeping the wrap together without everything a) falling apart b) getting super moist c) landing on my lap. We both tried sweet potato fries with a kick-in-the-pants (but GOOD!) dressing – and were happily engaged with our food.
We had nearly finished eating when I had my first sensation that something wasn’t quite right. My stomach seemed to be expanding a bit, and I felt a little warm. M seemed fine, so I figured that perhaps beef stock had somehow been used in the food prep. As I’ve got an intolerance to beef (yep – it stinks) – my body will react badly when I eat it. I figured I would head home, take some pepto, change to a more comfy pair of pants, feel better, and head to class.
How wrong I was.
On the way to the car, I confessed to M that my stomach didn’t feel great.
“Oh – mine is HORRIBLE!” she exclaimed. “I feel like my intestines are squirming.”
I don’t really remember much about the car trip home. I think we talked about paint samples. Pain and discomfort will do that – and at that point, she was focused on the road and I was focused on not throwing up all over her car, to really care otherwise. A quick farewell and she sped off home – and promptly spent the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom. It wasn’t pretty (her words).
Perhaps it’s the Ironman training – my stomach is tough, because shitting my way down the Queen K never seemed appealing so I trained it otherwise – the pepto helped for a while. So did the change of pants. But it really didn’t keep anything at bay…I was still SUPER uncomfortable, and a quick phone call from M just before heading into class confirmed how sick she had been. And that she had probably lost 10 pounds. Awesome. At least I had some warning of what was to come. Because right before officially starting class – the first course I’ve taken in years – I felt everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) about to come up…beading sweat on the forehead…racing heart….that taste in my mouth that screams YOU’RE ABOUT TO PUKE… I had seconds to make it to the bathroom, before the most awesomely pink projectile vomit erupted from my person. It was epic.
But thank God, I made it. And not a second too late. Won’t describe what happened next. But I gotta say – the pink pepto really added to it.
I did my best to clean up, washing my face and rinsing out my mouth. In some ways I felt MUCH better… but the post-throw-up queasy feeling was still there. The mint gum helped a little, as did the pepto I happened to be carrying in my bag. But… never ever have I felt so awful after eating something. Luckily my body did EXACTLY what it needed to do, in spite of my embarrassment. Thank goodness I’ve still got some fast-twitch fibers left – otherwise there’s no way I would have made it to the restrooms, let alone the stall. And then, I’d be like the kid in my third-grade class who threw up on the first day of school…. everyone remembers the splatting noise, as his puke hit the floor. Not the impression I’m hoping to give.
So. I’ve debated a lot about what to say – and how I want to say it. And I conferred with M as well…..we’re pretty much on the same page. We both really enjoyed the restaurant, the experience, thought the presentation and taste of the food was GREAT.
(and it’s a pretty but but).
But… it might be a while before we’d want to return.
I’m definitely open for another shot…. I’m sure we just got a bad _________________ (piece of pork? thrice fried plantain??). Or maybe we just went a little too extreme and ate things that are totally out of our ballpark. Who knows? And we both genuinely liked the place. I just can’t remember the last time I threw up like this from eating something bad.
So… we’ve got our first Official Foodie Tour visit under our proverbial belts, and hopefully this will be the only time that we get food poisoned and/or the food doesn’t agree with us. Not exactly starting out on a great note, but the SUPER news – is that we can only go up from here. Otherwise we’ll REALLY be up shit creek.