Tuesday, June 14, 2011
El Gaucho Inca - A Star if Born! Authentic Peruvian, Argentinean and Italian Cuisines in Fort Myers
Fort Myers has a refreshingly new destination restaurant just off Colonial Blvd and Winkler with delicious food, friendly service and great prices. Some of the food will be quite familiar, some won’t-it’s well worth your while to come and experience it! El Gaucho Inca serves three cuisines- via co-owner Rocio Navarette’s Peruvian heritage, and also Argentina’s Italian and Latin cuisines from her co-owner/husband/chef Mariano Maldonado’s upbringing.
The restaurant is tucked back in a shopping center at the prior site of Artistic Deli, 1.2 miles west of I-75 on Colonial Blvd, and perhaps a half block west of Winkler, on the north side of Colonial. There’s plenty of parking outside, and no shortage of friendly people inside.
The triple nature of the cuisines is reflected in the tripartite décor. As you enter, you’re facing a wine display.
Chef Mariano is certainly an alchemist, weaving Peruvian and Argentinean fruits, meats and spices into wonderfully flavored dishes. His Italian mother’s hand-makes the gnocchi and other pastas from scratch, naturally. There’s no “fusion confusion” here-the menu lists the dishes and their patrimony separately, and dishes and their spicing remains traditionally pure.
We started with the delicious $26 Intipalka Valle de Sol Tannat, 2009, a bold wine from Peru’s Tannat grape. (The grape hails from southern France- the South American clones have less pronounced tannins than their predecessor.) The taste is of layers of currant, dark cherry and blackberry-like complexity, with a welcome balance of tannins and a smooth finish, similar to a good Cabernet Sauvignon. Highly recommended. There's a good selection of other wines, including Malbec, Shiraz, Cabs and whites, representing wines from South America to Spain.
The table next to us had a large jar of freshly made lemonade-the kids drank it as if there was no tomorrow-it’s gotta be good! There are various children's meals at kid-friendly prices.
The menu offers Peruvian delights such as three ceviches ($11-13), choros a la chalaca ($7) (mussels), Jalea (fried seafood) for $14, parihuela seafood (15), tacu tacu, and tallarines verdes (10), aji de gallina (shredded chicken stew $9, various causas and papa rellena as a special (5).
Argentinean, or gaucho classics include Milanesa a la Napolitana, canelones, fettucini a lo Alfredo, raviolis, gnocchi, matambre flank steak, empanandas, achurras, fideos con cmaraones and wonderful steaks. Argentinean and Uruguayan steaks are the worlds best-so full of flavor! Argentina is half Italian in heritage and cuisine-many say the Italian food is the best in the world outside of Italy!
Hot sliced fresh bread quickly arrived with a nice crisp crust, a great help when dipping into the generous portion of addictively good huacatey sauce. This uniquely delicious black mint-based sauce gives a welcome mild peppery heat-don’t dip too much, or you’ll fill up too early.
We went for the Peruvian menu, and the first appetizer, the Peruvian tamal, is the size of any three Mexican tamales! The corn tamale comes with aji amararillo (yellow pepper) and salsa criolla for $5. We chose pork rather than chicken and were very, very happy!
How can one have Peruvian food without papa a la Huancaina? The quality of the Huancaina sauce at a Peruvian restaurant is said to be indicative of the chef’s, and the following meal’s overall quality. The Huancayo-style Yukon Gold like potatoes are boiled, sliced, placed on a bed of crisp green lettuce, then covered with a thick blanket of creamy cheese sauce.
Palta is the Peruvian word for avocado, and the palta rellena with shrimp is a Gaudi-esque pair of stuffed avocados, based on two peeled avocado halves which in turn rest on a bright green lettuce base. These halves are traditionally filled with diced shrimp, sweet red onion, diced red tomato, green peas, corn, peppers, lemon juice and bits of cilantro in a mayonnaise base.
Conchitas a la Parmesana ($12) are six attractive scallop shells filled with tender scallop, milk, butter, pepper brandy or Pisco liquor and spices, which are broiled till the cheese starts to get crisp and bubbling, yet not blistering. Highly recommended.
The attractively presented twin wooden skewers of shrimps ($12) are marinated in a subtle chimichurri sauce, then broiled. Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce with parsley, fresh oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, used on beef, chicken and pork.
Time for main courses!
Lomo saltado is a Peruvian classic, with the sliced steak sautéd in a wok, traditionally with sliced tomatoes, red onions, aji amarillo, soy sauce, cilantro, red wine vinegar and Peruvian herbs and spices. While Peruvians mixed it with crisp French fries, they have learned to keep them on the side for gringos.
Peruvian Pescado a lo macho is a basa fish filet that’s sautéed, then topped with shrimp, mussels, octopus, calamari, scallops and other seafood with a mildly spiced classic cream sauce, and served with rice for $15. It’s delicious!
On a future visit we’ll try the handmade gnocchi, steaks, and other offerings.
The $4 Peruvian Lucuma fruit cake (torta de lucuma) is a big wedge of yellow cake drizzled with the exotic lucuma syrup. The moist cake has an additional bonus-a layer of richly sweet dulce de leche and of lucuma, and is topped with a light lucuma glaze.. This is a heavenly, must-have dessert!
Coming on a Sunday can have it’s challenges, some places run out of things- only enpanadas and cherimoya ice cream were not available on our visit.
The restaurant offers outside catering, and can be reserved for business meetings or private parties. Call to see what nights offer Peruvian folkdance. Argentinean tango with Pablo Repun may be featured in a few months. Peruvian and Argentinian food is boldly spiced, not overly spiced, and a welcome treat. El Gaucho Inca’s food is delicious, authentic, and a welcome addition to the Fort Myers dining scene.
Lunch and dinner are served, closed Mondays.
Photos of many dishes are on the website at elgauchoinca.com
4391 Colonial Blvd, 275-7504