Monday, November 29, 2010

Indio Feliz - Before Machu Picchu

Before heading up to Machu Picchu, we spend the day in Aguas Calientes, just 9 kilometres away (and 400 metres lower). Unless you’re staying at the ritzy Sanctuary Lodge (USD 825 a night) or you’re doing the 4-day hike along the Inka Trail, then Aguas Calientes is the obligatory “base camp” before the ascent to Machu Picchu at sunrise.

Aguas Calientes is a lively town completely devoted to tourism, even over-devoted in that it’s lost any sense of identity beyond tourism. Think Niagara Falls.  On the principal streets leading away from the train station are restaurants, coffee bars, and massage parlours, each with someone standing outside, very persistently inviting you in.  That is, except for one restaurant, tucked down a narrow side street, called Indio Feliz (Happy Indian). Our guidebook says that it’s “the best restaurant in Aguas Calientes…one of Peru’s best restaurants”. Well, OK then, let’s head there for lunch.

Indio Feliz serves what they call Franco-Peruvian cuisine, not surprising, as the owners are a couple, he’s from France, and she’s from Peru. Decorated in funky ochre and green, the restaurant is on 3 floors, with an expansion built in 2008, a testament to its success. (Check out a video here) We take a seat on the ground floor, in a dining room adjoining the bar.

Lots of interesting choices on the menu too. The prix fixe is a great bargain, but we’re not so hungry that we need a 3-course meal. I opt for “Chicken with a Pepper-Pisco Sauce” with side dishes of homemade garlic potato chips, steamed vegetables, and rice. Tender chicken, cooked properly; the reduced chicken-stock-based pepper-Pisco sauce was delicious. With that, I had a quart-sized Cusqueña beer. Ah, a quart of beer. Like being back in university. But the food was never this good!

Michéle takes the "Chicken with Ginger Confit and a Cabernet Sauvignon sauce” with the same side dishes.

Two other members of our group – Alex and Minh – wander in and join us for lunch. Minh chooses the Salmon Trout – fresh from the local Urubamba River – with mangoes from Quillabamba and the standard side dishes.

Alex goes vegetarian, taking the Tagliatelle, served au natural, but with a variety of different sauces that you can mix and match to your own taste.

You know how some restaurants have a bowl at reception where you can toss in your business card? Well, Indio Feliz has a large wall where you can staple your business card. And so, if you ever get to Aguas Calientes and have a meal at Indio Feliz, look for the card from Dave’s Domaine.

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