A far-away friend mentioned today on Facebook that she was thinking of the Peruvian restaurant here in Provo, “La Carreta.” “Which is silly, really,” she said, “because I can’t taste right now anyway! Just thinking about it.”
So, in response, I began writing a little prose to help her “taste” a bit from this gem of a diner right here in li’l ol’ Provo, Utah. Of course, I have trouble doing anything “small,” and my few lines of prose grew into… well, this.
So, as they say in Peru, “¡Buen Provecho!”
Pushing on the cold glass door, I am instantly assailed by the breath of warm, salty wind hailing in from the kitchen not 20 feet away. A savory stew of Peruvian polka music and friendly conversation (both in Spanish and English) splatter the wood posts and ceramic walls in a bright symphonic tableau — and the appetizers haven’t even started yet.
Ursula, the dark-eyed, sweet-faced manager sees me and smiles. I am one of their favorites, after all. I’ve been frequenting this little Peruvian transplant since I was a Freshman in college. I won’t say how many years that has been, except to say, “They know me well here.”
She sees that I have brought another future long-standing patron to introduce to their fold. I do this constantly. She also knows I prefer the booths and directs us over to the South wall past the dark wooden tables and chairs, past the chatter of a group of well-dressed businessmen, and past the variegated stained glass window which hovers like a newly resurrected phoenix over the entire room, casting its mottled, kaleidoscopic light onto all who venture within its mortal realm.
She takes his drink order and turns to me. “Water,” she asks? (Knowing that I never have anything else.) I nod and bring up my most impish grin. I know I don’t even have to ask. “And plenty of fresh salsa. Sí, I know,” she smiles. And I smile back.
Would it surprise you to know that I’m not a huge salsa fan? I don’t much care for spicy food in general. But the salsa in this place is so far beyond compare—anywhere—that I simply must. Every time! One of these days I’m going to get up the nerve to simply ask for a bowl of it and a spoon. That’s it. That’s lunch. No chips. It really is that good. I have a friend who squeezes a little lime into hers and throws in a pinch of extra salt for good measure. I tried it and I don’t do that anymore. The last time I did it, I went into a bliss-coma that lasted three days. I can’t handle that much happiness in my tiny mouth. It’s unhealthy.
“Being here is good,” I reply. You can do no wrong here. It’s somewhat akin to being in heaven, except that I do hope heaven has a wider array of musical genres to choose from. Just throwin’ that out there.
He scans the menu, commenting on the vast myriad of choices while I aim my paper straw cover at his face. Epic fail, again. Drat. I suck at the whole paper-straw-cover attack. So I go to plan-B and begin scrunching it into a glow-worm.
My menu is closed. I never opened it. “What are you getting,” he asks? “I always get the same thing. Number One. The House Special. They marinate it in grapefruit juice.” He can tell from the far away look in my eyes that it is a divine experience for me bordering on prayer, and chooses not to interrupt my reverie too quickly with more questions.
Ursula returns, looking a little frazzled from that table of businessmen. She pours us water and delivers the salsa and chips. “Ready,” she asks?
Oh,… We are so ready.
You know, I’ve never been to Peru. But I absolutely know that somewhere in that country, perhaps in an obscure village at the end of a long, possibly ignoble street, there is an unusually square crater where the earth has been mysteriously excised right down to the bedrock. No one knows where this culet of earth has gone; and no one knows why. There are rumors, of course, among the locals that there once thrived a quaint family restaurant, serving the cuisine of the culture. Nothing special, but part of the community. And then one day, it was… gone! Did los gigantes take it away? Or possibly aliens? After all, they took the earth too! Everyone speculates, but no one really knows.
They should ask me. I know where it is: that very same parcel of ground that seethes and breathes the equator’s air wa-a-a-ay up here in the frozen North. It’s sitting here in Provo on the corner of State and 1200 South. And it’s named somewhat self-effacingly, “La Carreta,” meaning, “The Wagon,” or “Cart”.
You should stop by sometime if you’re ever in Provo, and ask for Ursula. Tell her I sent you and that you’d like an extra serving of fresh salsa.