We may have said it before, but Mart and I prefer not to go to a new restaurant in the first few weeks after they open, especially to restaurants that have gotten a lot of media attention. Unless you’re going to a chain restaurant with a team of professional “store openers”, even the best chef or restaurantuer will go through growing pains opening a new place. Instead, we’ll usually wait a couple months, let the team work out any kinks, and stop by when things are running like clockwork. When we recommend a place on SarasotaFoodies.com, we need to feel confident that you’ll have a good experience too!
So imagine my surprise when Mart suggested we go to Inkanto Authentic Peruvian Cuisine after they’d only been open a little over two weeks. Really? What could possibly go wrong other than long waits for a table, staff that doesn’t know the menu, mixed up orders and less than stellar food? But in this instance I’m guessing the Peruvian gods were whispering in Mart’s ear, because this new restaurant, a mere infant by restaurant standards, performed like they’d been delivering great food for quite some time. How refreshing!
That being said, I’ve got to believe the owner of Inkanto has a good head for business. Located in the Tamiami Trail shopping center just south of the new Trader Joe’s, (scheduled to open in September of 2012), it’s a pretty strategic move to open in the slower month of July, without a lot of fanfare, instead of waiting until fall when everyone will ‘suddenly’ discover Inkanto when they mob Trader Joe’s. I hope we don’t blow your cover!
Smart moves don’t stop there. On the weeknight we pulled up to Inkanto it was pouring rain, as in Sarasota style! Yet there was our lovely server, Lucelia, waiting at the front door with an umbrella in case we needed it. Seriously? The server? This wasn’t a valet with a rain poncho, she was a cute, young server willing to run out and get drenched if needed! Smart move for her, because we had an umbrella, but she gets credit for the offer! Before escorting us to our seat, Lucelia introduced us to the open wine corner, where guests can select wine by the bottle, as well as the private dining room situated next to it. With seating for 18, I immediately started wishing I had an opportunity to host a party or meeting in this lovely room.
After taking our wine order, Lucelia brought us a complimentary sample of the traditional Peruvian drink, Chicha Morada. This dark, burgundy colored non-alcoholic beverage is actually made of purple Peruvian corn with cinnamon, pineapple, apple skins and cloves that are boiled, then cooled, swirled with a little sugar and served cold. From the first sip we knew we’d be well taken care of — Peruvian style!
Since we were early enough to beat the crowd, we took our time considering everything on the menu, which our server said is still evolving. Everything is under $20, but Lucelia said they may add a fillet to the menu, which may come in over that $20 benchmark.
Big fans of yucca fries, Mart ordered the Yuccas D’Inkanto, a nicely proportioned starter with crisp, deep fried yucca accompanied by three different sauces for dipping. Each sauce, from the red pepper infused Huancaina sauce to the yellow Rocoto and pale green Ocopa sauce has its own distinct flavor, yet each seemed the perfect compliment to the crispy yucca. We couldn’t pick a favorite. They all tasted like they’d been freshly made only moments before.
Since I tend to associate ceviche with Peru, I was excited to try the Ceviche Tradicional – raw fish and onions marinated to the point of being cooked in aromatic lime juice and special hot pepper sauce served with crackling crunchy Peruvian corn nuts, sweet potato and lettuce. We’ve enjoyed ceviche at any number of local restaurants, and Inkanto’s rendition certainly stands up there with the best of them. Where did they get this chef? Oh how the smart moves continue!
Mart was drawn to the Arroz con Pato duck entree from the moment he opened the menu, so he’ll say he “went with his gut” when he ordered it –completely ignoring all the other tantalizing choices. This delicious entree features duck and rice cooked in black beer and cilantro, and believe me, it smelled as great as it looks. He couldn’t have been more impressed by the flavors infused in the rice, which picked up the fresh cilantro as well as other Peruvian spices he couldn’t quite recognize. Nothing was too spicy, or drenched in sauce. Just fresh, wonderfully prepared, well balanced food.
Unlike Mart, I did see several items on the menu that captured my attention, so I was happy to take Lucelia’s recommendations for the Pescado a lo Macho. This dish featured a Corvina fish topped with creamy yellow Saffron sauce and a variety of seafood. The picture tells the story. . . plump mussels, calamari and a huge prawn topped the corvina, and the sauce earns a big, bright gold star. Not only did it look beautiful, but everything was cooked to perfection.
Needless to say, we were happy to give Inkanto Authentic Peruvian Cuisine high marks when the owner stopped by to ask how we were enjoying our meal. We discussed the 9 or 10 other Peruvian restaurants in Sarasota, and how very different each of them is from one another. Darwin’s on 4th, for example, is more of an infusion of Peruvian street food, (though nothing he touches looks like it came off a food cart.) Peruvian Grill offers great food, but very little in the way of ambiance. Inkanto, it seems to us, is aptly named as Authentic Peruvian Cuisine – but at an affordable price. We had two starters, two entrees and each had two glasses or wine, and our bill was only $85 — for food of truly high quality. We both hope Inkanto becomes a great success. Opening a restaurant it a tough business, and we’d hate to see one with this much promise not make it to our A-Lister status one day.
After we paid our bill, but just before we left, we enjoyed one more delight at Inkanto. So happy were the owner and the chef with our ringing endorsement of his food, that he sent out a surprise dessert for us to share, a light and lovely Delicia de Marcuya, which is essentially a passion fruit custard layered in filo dough with whipped cream and a strawberry garnish and flecks of pistachio, floating on a swirl of chocolate. In English this would be called Heaven on a Plate! We would gladly pay for this dessert 7 times over, but it was compliments of the chef. Like we needed another reason to come back to Inkanto! Really now!
Muchas gracias y muy delicioso!