Often as diners, we are drawn to the romanticism of a restaurant only to find out it was all a farce to get us in the door. The proverbial husband and wife team come together for a family dining experience. Well you can put the skeptic to rest at El Gaucho Inca Restaurant.
After missing out on a Peruvian restaurant in Naples because they do not accommodate dogs, I was excited, as a pig in mud, when told that there was an outside table and they would love to have my dog. Woohoo, music to my ears. I was staying close to the Sanibel Captiva Island Gateway, which is a good 20 minute drive to this restaurant. Since it was night, I really could not make out much. But, with limited lighting I could tell this was a very residential area. The restaurant is in the middle of a strip plaza. Lucky for the big overhead sign we found it.
In true family style this restaurant was bustling. The heightened activity, noise, people chatting, music playing, kids giggling, kitchen clanking almost made me want to ditch the dog and sit inside. No, I can’t do that. The lovely host sat us outside and brought menus. On a little prompt, our server went on to describe the dishes. We pulled the right card. She was Rocio Navarrete, Peruvian, the Inca portion of ownership. I’ve dined in enough ethnic restaurants to know the difference between authenticity and fakeness. Rocio takes deep pride in representing her restaurant and culture. She took time to explain each item, with parallels that we could relate to. It is a joy to hear the ring in someone’s voice when they present their food.
Bread – with chimicurri. I really had to be careful with this. The chimicurri had the right amount of bite to open up the taste buds. I could eat a lot more of this, easily.
Seafood Ceviche – The ceviche is the national dish of Peru, made with fresh fish marinated in fresh lime juice, red onions, cilantro a hint of rocoto chili served with Peruvian corn, sweet potato and fresh lettuce. Fresh, with the right balance of acidity and sweetness, textures melted together in cohesiveness.
Pork Tamale – Corn mashed potato stuffed with pork wrapped with banana leaves. Soft, pliable with the earthiness of leaves, very flavorful.
Pescado a lo Macho – Fish fillet with a light spice herb and creamy seafood served with rice. This is not a dish to be taken lightly. It is very rich and complex. The main flavoring ingredient is a Peruvian pepper that has a distinguished taste. Although, this dish can be served hot, the pepper is more for flavor rather than heat. The rich butter and cream sauce is lusciously addicting with succulent seafood. The moist supple white fish, Swai, was a perfect vessel for these flavors. A spectacular dish. When asked if this dish could be served with anything other than rice, the simple answer, “ That is how it is served in Peru.” That is a restaurant staying true to it’s roots. This was the Inca side.
Churrasco 12 oz Skirt Steak – There is not much done to a steak in Argentina. In true Gaucho fashion, the meat is grilled on open fire in the wild range and devoured. Those flavors were captured in this hunk of meat. The subtle saltiness lend well to a slightly chewy texture. Couldn’t get any better.
Torta de Lucuma – A traditional Peruvian dessert. The slightly nutty Lucuma , a native Peruvian fruit, fragrance filled the nose. The cake itself was spongy but not too sweet. As shown in picture, dessert in take out box, we just could not fit anything else in so we took it to go. After a couple of hours, this made a nice midnight snack at the hotel.
I am always thrilled to find restaurants that stay true to their culture. Walking around this dining room is like a museum of cultural art. Even the toilets have interesting art to ponder while you take care of business. All too often ethnic restaurants shy away from their own identity and form this thing called “fusion”. Or is it confusion, or not wanting to embrace their true self. The blend of Argentina and Peru is prevalent in every aspect of this place. Judging from the crowded dining room, I would say this is a great marriage.