Peli Peli Vintage Park
BY KERIN MAYNE
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Over twenty miles separates the boutique-filled, contemporary shopping center of Vintage Park in the Northwest part of Houston from the well-established, upscale shopping Mecca of The Galleria. One offers shopping a little closer to home for those living in Spring, Tomball, and the surrounding areas; while the other attracts over 30 million visitors each year. Despite their differences, these two shopping areas share a South African fusion dining experience known as Peli Peli.
Peli Peli Vintage Park offers every tasty morsel that’s offered at Peli Peli Galleria, but they’re able to do so in a more spacious arena. If you’ve dined at The Galleria location, you can expect the same great food and the same attentive service. The interior space of the Vintage Park location offers a little more legroom including: a 30-foot tall Acacia Tree; seating for up to 80 for private functions; and a larger outdoor seating area with a festive courtyard view. However, the same warm rich tones dominate the dining area. The décor and ambiance remain perfect for every occasion from power lunches to romantic dinners. If this is your first introduction to South African fusion food; come prepared to experience flavorful, well-seasoned, and creative dishes that will have you questioning why you didn’t dine at Peli Peli sooner.
The only difficulty I’ve ever had while dining at Peli Peli is deciding what to order! Whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, or omnivore; there are multiple choices for everyone on each menu. It’s helpful to dine with multiple people so that everyone can sample from each other’s generously portioned plates. But if your dining party is smaller, just keep in mind that you can always come back. Often! Luckily for me, I had great dining companions for this meal who were more than happy to sample a variety of items from the menu.
The meal started with the South African Sampler appetizer plate accompanied by the restaurant’s private label wine, Peli Peli Courage. The earthiness of this medium-bodied Sangiovese was the perfect accompaniment to the sweet and tangy flavors found in the Stuffed Peppadews. The pickled South African fruit, filled with cream cheese and chives, offered a bright burst of flavor and a savory richness with its filling. Another fruit based bite was found in the Chicken Sosatie, a Dutch skewer of sweet curry marinated chicken layered with apricots and paired with mango chutney. For those inclined to enjoy more savory bites, there was the Boerewors Sausage, which is a traditional farmer’s sausage of pork and beef that was paired with tomatoes, onions, and 3-types of peppers, known as Chakalaka sauce. Another traditional savory taste was Biltong, a cured beef that I would characterize as the love child of beef jerky and prosciutto. Lastly were the precious orbs of Brussels sprouts. I say precious because these flash-fried veggies almost stole the show. They were perfect bites of salty, crispy, earthiness that accompanied the other flashier flavors on the plate. After enjoying the flavors of this appetizer sampler, I knew we were headed for trouble—in a good way—and possibly in need a wheel barrow to roll us out the door after dinner!
Before the dinner entrées were served, we were treated to a palate cleanser… Kale Salad. This wasn’t a dish we had planned on eating; it wasn’t even a blip on our screen! It came to us by way of a recommendation by our server, Kristin, and I can’t believe I almost said “No, thank you.” I’m not against being healthy by any means, but this salad was the furthest thing from my mind when looking at the menu. I came to the table ready for a culinary adventure, and honestly, kale just isn’t what I had in mind. I was prepared to take a few polite bites, a nod to my upbringing, and ended up finishing every last bite in the bowl. The goat cheese pearls, diced peppadews, cherry tomatoes, roasted pumpkin seeds, and sprinkling of flash-fried Brussels sprout leaves were tossed in a lemon thyme vinaigrette; the ingredients offered a new flavor combination with every forkful. There was even an added bonus to this salad-a Capetown Cucumber Martini rimmed with Peli Peli seasoning. Ashlee, our bartender, picked the perfect drink to accompany the perfect salad!
Our main entrées represented the diversity of the Peli Peli menu: lamb chops, seafood, and a vegetarian dish. The Great Karoo Lamb Chops were crusted in the Peli Peli herb mix and grilled to a perfect medium rare. The lamb chops were served with flash-fried Brussels sprouts, sautéed in coconut milk and a sweet chili sauce, as well as a side of crunchy and lightly sweet carrot slaw; both sides complimented the savory chops. More private label wines accompanied each entrée. Peli Peli Grace, a full-bodied Bordeaux-styled blend with its layers of black currants was chosen to balance the richness of the lamb.
If you order the Prawn Espetada, be prepared for other diners to watch enviously as it’s presented at your table. Jumbo Tiger prawns grilled in spicy butter and garlic are suspended from a swinging skewer in an over-the-top visual spectacular. They’re served with a ramekin of Peli Peli sauce, South African rice, flash-fried Brussels sprouts, and carrot bredie: a mash of carrots, potatoes, leeks, and other savory ingredients. The show continued as Kristin peeled the prawns tableside. An optional, but helpful service! The shells were picked clean of the meat and placed in a bowl, as we were encouraged to get the most out of the sauce that remained on them. Peli Peli Freedom, a full-bodied Chardonnay, provided hints of lemon, almonds, peach, and grapefruit to partner with this seafood splurge.
Understated in its presentation, but not to be outdone by the other dishes, the Curry Spaghetti was a mosaic of colors and flavors. The roasted spaghetti squash was served with a zesty green curry sauce, cilantro, toasted coconut, mango chutney, and seasonal vegetables which included: grilled corn, portobello mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and brussel sprouts. Tableside instructions were given to mix the ingredients together, as they were presented side-by-side in the bowl, to get the full flavor combinations. Each bite of this dish offered a burst of boldness that made this vegetarian dish a delight to eat! To highlight its boldness, a glass of Peli Peli Unity Cabernet Sauvignon provided the right amount of intensity to stand up to this dish.
By the end of the meal we said we had eaten our fill and experienced all we could handle! However, that’s easier said than done when confronted by the Peli Peli dessert menu. Resist, we did not! So this tale of gluttony will end with a dessert trio of Sticky Toffee Pudding, Sticky Toffee Cheesecake, and Melktart Brûlée. The Sticky Toffee Pudding is a rich moist cake filled with bits of sticky toffee, served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top. Topping decadence with more decadence, the Sticky Toffee Cheesecake is infused with chunks of sticky toffee pudding. We enjoyed these two great desserts without an ounce of guilt in any bit. But the table winner was the Melktart Brûlée. This dessert is a traditional South African dessert with a slight Peli Peli twist—it has been given a graham cracker crust. The custard-like filling with a slight cinnamon-vanilla-eggnog flavor was warm and inviting. It’s sweeter than I would normally gravitate towards; but each bite had me going back for another, and before I knew it the dessert had disappeared. Poof!
The food at Peli Peli is an experience, a vision, a taste sensation. It’s approachable food that offers tastes of familiarity and newness in one dish. It’s family-friendly, date-friendly, business-friendly. One could go as far as saying Peli Peli succeeds at being everything to everyone. Most importantly, Peli Peli is available in more than one location!
PHOTOGRAPHY: KERIN MAYNE
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