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The Gossiping Gourmet: From O.C. to the shores of Peru

April 24, 2013|By Terry Markowitz
  • Empanadas served at Inka Cantina in Fountain Valley.
Empanadas served at Inka Cantina in Fountain Valley. (KEVIN CHANG )

Peruvian food is an interesting and delicious mixture of indigenous cuisine combined with influences from the Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and West Africans who settled there. At the family-run Inka Cantina in Fountain Valley, you will find a menu featuring the operators' own traditional family recipes from the Andes and the northern coast of Peru.

As you enter this pleasant little strip-mall restaurant, the owner greets you warmly as if you were family. His daughter was our waitress, and she was new on the job. He joked that we should be kind to her, but no need, she was quite perfect.

The décor reflects Spanish influences with wrought-iron sconces and fixtures. Some rather kitschy large paintings of Peru line one wall, while clay figurines fill niches on the other side of the room. A TV set, high in one corner, features scenic photos of the country.

Our first appetizer also reflected a Spanish influence, in that it was a version of an empanada. Three come in an order and you can choose from chicken, spinach or beef, or you can get a selection with all three, which we did. They were the best we had ever tasted!

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The little pillows had the lightest, thinnest crust, perfectly fried, and each filling was better than the last. One was shredded beef, one was sautéed spinach with some soft cheese, and the last was tender and juicy chicken. All were perfectly seasoned and accompanied by a light and spicy lime dipping sauce for a final touch of heat.

Our second appetizer was the tiradito de pescado, representing the merger of Peru and Japan. Raw fish, tilapia in this case, was thinly sliced and marinated in aji Amarilo (yellow chili), garlic and cilantro. The dish was finished with a bit of salad and nuggets of Peruvian corn (choclo). The fish was very fresh-tasting, and the light sauce had a pleasant kick. Any sushi bar would have been proud to serve it.

Picante de mariscos was rather like a curry. Tilapia, shrimp, calamari and cubed potatoes came in a yellow Peruvian chili sauce with a touch of cilantro. The plate was really a platter, and the seafood was swimming in a generous amount of sauce. There was also an Incan pyramid of rice resting in one corner that we mixed into the sauce, which was somewhat spicy and had good flavor from a complex seasoning mixture. The only problem was that the calamari strips were a bit rubbery.

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