Sunday Dinner at Inkas (SF)
Here's the short version:
We had ceviche (pescado and mariscos), fried yucca, pollo alla braza
with aji panca sauce, anticuchon, aji de gallina, parihuela soup,
seco, chaufa de camarones, and extra fries. Plus picarones, Lucuma ice
cream, and alfajores. Total was $200+ tip including tax and $8 corkage.
I'll ask my 8 fellow diners of Peruvian fare to fill in the details, likes and dislikes.
3299 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
here's a link to some pictures i took to remind everyone of what we ate:
my favorites were the pescado ceviche, pollo a la brasa, fried plantains, anticuchos with the yellow chile sauce (thanks, melanie, for that suggested pairing!), fries, lucuma ice cream, and alfajores.
i thought the space was nice (hadn't been when it was previously rock soup) and the wait staff was helpful and accommodating to our large group.
one thing noted was that there was no real timing to when dishes came out. although the ceviches were "appetizers", they came after the seco and maybe a few other dishes, too. then, everything just arrived at the table all at once. however, everything was very tasty and got eaten up pretty quickly anyway.
First time here for me and I'd definately go back. The kitchen did a great job with all of the fried foods - perfectly crispy and not greasy at all. Very friendly service, family-run spot. We also had an order of the empanadas (beef and egg) but they weren't a favorite as we had leftovers on that one (but they were fried nicely!)
When Windy ordered she told the waiter that the order of the dishes didn't matter so that's why they came a bit haphazard.
Was the pollo alla braza the whole chicken - I'd go back for just that. Well that plus that bright yellow aji sauce they served with the bread.
A few comments were made that this was some of the spiciest Peruvian food we'd had in the bay area - that good kind of spicy that makes you want to keep eating and eating and eating.
I am glad it appears you guys liked the place. IMO, for food and friendly family service Inka's is one of the most underrated restaurants in SF. Unfortunately the place is rarely even half-full at lunch time.
And that yellow pepper sauce...Wow, I always have to ask for a container to go after each visit!
I believe Windy was the only one in our party who had been to Inkas previously, and I think we all enjoyed much of the food. I didn't try the beef dishes, so my opinions don't reflect those.
The yucca, plantains, and french fries showed a deft hand, and remained surprisingly good even as they cooled. I really enjoyed the ceviche mixto (white fish, squid, shrimp, and mussels) and the aji de gallina, with a suce using the same aji amarillo chiles that flavor the sauce that comes with bread. This was my first taste of lucuma ice cream (lucuma is a Peruvian fruit), which I liked, and of chicha morada, the cinnamony purple corn punch, which was too sweet for me.
The parihuela didn't impress any of us, I don't think; it seemed quite heavy on cornstarch, which made the texture a bit goopy.
I thought it was a nice, well-prepared homestyle meal. As others have mentioned, I was surprised to find the warm spiciness, as it's been absent from my other forays into Peruvian food. I actually wanted to eat the aji de gallina and not just taste it. My favorite was the ceviche pescado, and the version of shrimp fried rice here is better than most Chinese-American places, made with whole shrimp. The lacuma ice cream was better here than at La Mar Cebicheria.
Here's a photo of two of our wines,
We started with the 2007 Zardetto Prosecco, which was starting to show its age with a faint nuttiness, but not unpleasantly. Then the 1999 Schloss Saarstein Serriger Schloss Saarstein Riesling Spätlese and 1997 Sorbiano Rosso delle Miniere Montescudaio Rosso. The Spatlese was starting to develop some gold in the hue and honeyed petrol aromas, and seemed a bit advanced to me, which has been the case with other 99s I've opened recently. But it was still a very good example of type.
The Tuscan red was a gift to us from Gary Cheong in NYC. He sent me two bottles about 8 years ago, one to be opened at a SF chowdown. We did enjoy it at the time, but it was much too young and quite astringent. I held this one back in my cellar thinking that Gary might visit us again and would enjoy drinking it at maturity. Instead, the occasion of Caitlin McGrath, former NYer, at the table and one who remembers Gary's days on the chowboards was reason enough to pop the cork. And, it was absolutely at peak, soft as taffeta and so beautifully fragrant from the malvasia and cabernet franc blended with sangiovese, and proof of this great vintage in Tuscany.
Our waiter was quite interested in our wines. As we were leaving, he asked me about the Sorbiano and where I purchased it, as he knew the wine and has not been able to find it. I've just checked winesearcher, and there don't seem to be any Sorbiano wines of any type in the database in the US.
Like many others, I found the ceviche very balanced, and the onions excellent - sharp but not sulphurous, a perfect contrast for the fish and other seafood, as well as other dishes.
The yellow aji amarillo-based sauce was lovely, pleasantly smoky,more of the chilli tanginess than usual, and I loved it on everything, especially the fries. Also good with the pollo alla brasa/rotisserie chicken. The breast meat (well, there wasn't any thigh etc left by the time it got to me) wasn't as moist as some renditions I've had elsewhere, but nevertheless a pleasure to eat.
The fried yucca was exceptional, brilliantly crispy.
The aji de gallina came with a thinner sauce than most (it's usually thick and almost puffy), a heavier focus on the tangy and smoky qualitities of the aji amarillo pepper, with a reduced role for the cheese. I found it refreshing, if different, and the bites that included the perfect hard boiled egg were great (contrast with sauce and chicken).
Also thumbs up for the meaty anticuchos.
Alfajores were notable for their thin shortbread at just the right balance with the dulce de leche (a hint more of a sour note would have been even closer to my personal preference). Good smooth ice cream and fairly light picarones.
Very grateful to all for an immensely enjoyable meal and to Melanie (and Gary) for the wines.
Were the anticuchos actually made with beef heart? some restaurants will substitute a cut of beef instead of heart, and they're nowhere near as good. Also, i've only seen the aji as a light bright green at restaurants, and the yellow when it's jarred. but you think they made it themselves? did anyone notice if they had papa a la huancayna? delicious cold potato dish with a yellow slightly spicy cheese sauce, garnished with hard boiled egg, sometimes corn on the cob or even giant toasted hominy. i grew up eating peruvian so i'm happy to hear there's a good place nearby, haven't checked Inkas out yet, afer all these years...
Score! This is why I spend so much time following this board. Thanks to the advice on this list, four of us enjoyed what we all agreed was one of the best meals we've had in a long, long time.
Initially we were confused. Share some apps and order individual dinner plates, or build a meal around the pollo alla braza? Our server solved the mystery and following her advice we went family style, adding ceviche, a green salad with avocado, picante de camarones, and pescado sudado to the pollo and fries. She even put us at a bigger table when she knew we were eating family style, which really helped since all the plates were full sized and would have worked out just fine as individual meals.
Every dish was a winner. Even the salad, which was nothing special by itself, worked well with the other plates. The camarones were perfectly cooked, bursting with flavor. The spicy sauce melded with the potatoes, hard boiled egg, and rice on the plate to make this dish sing. The pescado sudado was in a broth that had unexpected notes of ginger and cilantro that blew us all away -- what was that? Our questions were answered by a man that must be one of the family that owns the place. He broke down the sudado dish and gave us ideas for our next meal there. He explained that their family has been in the restaurant business for 40 years going back to Peru, and they're business has been building over the 3 years they've been at the Mission Street location. By the time we left, around 9:00 on a Sunday, every table was full -- and most seemed to me to be Peruvian families. This place is for real.
Others noted the spiciness, but frankly I didn't find it as hot as what I ordered at Piqueo's, and not noticeably more spicy than Limon Rottiserie. But the yellow pepper sauce really was amazing. It worked so well with the chicken and the fries. It lets you take any dish up a notch. Tangy, picante, but not at all overwhelming.
We brought our own wine, a Malbec that stood up well to the spice, and the $8 corkage was totally reasonable. Four of us, with tax and tip, got out for less than $100. I'm just blown away. Can't wait to go back!