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DINING: Mama Irma earns high praise

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Dining - A&E

“You can’t make Peruvian food out of Mexican ingredients.”

That’s what I heard the owner of Mama Irma Restaurant (1058 Virginia Ave., 423-2421) declare while I was falling in love with a plate of Tallarin con Huancaina at her new Fountain Square eatery. And while I’m no expert on South American cuisine—there are too few opportunities in Indy to sample it done right—I could taste exactly what she meant.

I’ll get to my favorite dish in a minute. Let’s start with the Causa Rellena ($6) and the Papa Rellena ($5.50) appetizers. Each had the size and shape of a baked potato, the consistency of mashed potatoes, and the ability to incite greed among sharing lunch partners. The Causa Rellena was filled but not overstuffed with veggies, chicken and/or tuna salad. The latter had a finely ground beef peccadillo at its core.
 

Dining Chupe de Camarones–a seafood bisque with big pieces of fish–is just one of many highlights of a Mama Irma meal. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The kitchen happily split—without an upcharge—a massive bowl of Chupe de Camarones ($12.50), a lovingly made pool of shrimp, Peruvian corn (sliced from but still surrounding a wedge of cob) and fall-off-the-fork fish. The menu boldly states, “You will love this soup.” It was right.

I’ll admit that my first look at the aforementioned Tallarin con Huancaina ($10.50) prepared me for what I thought would be the meal’s first disappointment. What looked like a tenderloin-sized slab of thin steak awkwardly topping a plate of spaghetti turned out to be a highlight among highlights—tender, flavorful meat mixed with perfectly cooked pasta and a light but influential Huancaina sauce. In an American culture that tends to over-cheese just about everything, this was a refreshing reminder of what can be pulled off with restraint, care and fresh ingredients.

When a meal is this fulfilling, house-made dessert is a must even when there seems to be no room. Somehow, though, we found space for Crema Volteada ($3.75), a slice of upside-down custard heaven, and Postre Mama Irma ($4.25), an equally fine upside-down chocolate cake with custard and caramel that offered little resistance to the forks slicing through it. The message of this delicious duo: While Mama Irma doesn’t market itself as a dessert spot, it’s worth a stop even if you’ve had your main meal somewhere else.•

—Lou Harry

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Second in a month-long series of reviews of new ethnic eateries.

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  • Hold the Queso, por favor
    Overcheesing is a Midwestern, not an American thing. I've been to a great many Latin American and traditional Mexican restaurants in Texas and throughout the Southwest that don't overcheese. That said, I'm going to pay Mama Irma a visit. It sounds like a wonderful alternative to the (mostly) awful cuisine preferred by the average salt-and-sugar, chain-loving Hoosier.
  • Hmm
    I wish I could share in the rave reviews about this place! I read glowing report after glowing report, and was so disappointed when I actually did go. The food was bland, the meat overcooked, and the service, while friendly, was terribly slow. I ordered the same thing as the reviewer - the Tallarin con Huancaina - and unfortunately had a less delightful experience. The meat was like rubber and the sauce was terrible. Perhaps it's just a personal thing and Peruvian isn't my cup of tea, but I was very disappointed after all the reviews I read...

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.

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