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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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Lunch at Surco Peruvian, Thai-riffic and the Dandelion food carts at Library Mall
Pick three

Credit:Linda Falkenstein

Now that it is summerlike, it's been more appealing to slip down to the Library Mall and have a food-cart lunch. It's always good to survey the landscape there, as some carts drop out and others step up.

Surco Peruvian is an interesting addition. Peruvian cuisine is still unfamiliar to many North Americans, and what the food writer is obligated to say here is, "It's nothing like Mexican food." Peruvian dishes often use potatoes and mayonnaise-based sauces, and are not all that spicy. At Surco I would head right for the aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian chicken in a creamy sauce usually made with walnuts and the South American aji pepper.

The strangest thing about aji de gallina is that it is served both over potatoes and with rice, which will strike the starch-conscious American as deeply wrong. Just go with it. Surco's version is made with shredded chicken, in a luscious sauce, a subtle zing from the peppers. Served atop neat cubes of boiled potatoes and topped with a hardboiled egg and a scattering of raisins, it gets an A+ in the category of comfort food. The side of white rice is chewy, but also nutty. If the lack of vegetables in this dish is a some vegetables later in the day.

The cart's arroz con pollo, a flattened, marinated chicken breast, comes with cilantro rice and frozen vegetables - a disappointment. The slightly sweet, earthy quinotto, described as a quinoa risotto, is served with a coleslaw salad topped with pecans. The slaw is peppy, but if you just want a green side to the aji de gallina, you don't need the quinotto. Dilemmas.

Thai-riffic is a new vendor with a limited menu of Thai standards - pad Thai, curry fried rice, and squash curry with either chicken or tofu. I'd pick the squash curry, a portion large enough to feed two for $6. The squash and the tofu are flavorful, though the Thai eggplant was underdone. The curry sauce, which was fine, tended to get lost in the large amount of rice. Make it hotter with sauce provided at the stand.

The Dandelion is new on the mall this year (but a Square cart in previous years). It continues to set a high standard for vegetarian food, not just for carts but for the entire city. The Rio Wrap, with artichoke dip, poblano pepper, brown rice, black beans, baked tofu, greens and pico de gallo, is a most worthy variation on a burrito. The best-seller is the roasted sweet potato wrap, pairing that veggie with cilantro, spinach, pesto and Gorgonzola cheese for a fabulous, if somewhat gooey, casserole-in-a-tortilla. And I still maintain the rich baked tofu sandwich on ciabatta will convert just about any tofu-hater.

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