Inka Fest in Mesa--New Peruvian Restaurant, Delicious!
We tried to go to the Cornish Pasty Co. (Mesa location, at Dobson and Guadalupe) this evening, but were faced with cold weather, everyone crowding indoors, and an hour plus wait. With eight of us, including two kids, we couldn't do that, especially with no indoor waiting area. So we decided to try a new place next door that we'd noticed when walking to The Cornish Pasty co. A Peruvian restaurant called Inka Fest, in the building where Dooby's had been.
Disclaimer: I've never eaten Peruvian food, so I can't compare to other experiences with this cuisine, or speak to its authenticity. But I can say it was delicious, and the three employees in the place were all Peruvians with fairy thick accents, so I'm guessing it was on the authentic side!
Probably exactly the same as when it was Dooby's, with a few different items hung on the walls. Nothing fancy, and it feels more like a lunch joint, despite the bar in one corner and the stage in the dining room.
My dad ordered Chicha Marada, a Peruvian purple corn drink. It was decidedly purple, not too sweet, interstingly spiced. It reminded me of a mulled Christmas punch, in fact. Quite delicious, and fun to sample something we'd never tried! $1.50.
My mom and daughter chose the maracuya, a passion fruit drink (also $1.50). Again, not too sweet. which I really appreciate. Very refreshing and delicious.
They had some Peruvian sodas, by the can or the 2 liter bottle, and I was interested, but I don't typically spend my calories on liquids unless they're a compellingly alcoholic beverage. Ice waters for the rest of the table. They are hoping to have their liquor license by next month.
We ordered a plate of tostones and ordered papa rellena, mashed potatoes stuffed with ground beef, hard boiled egg, onion, olives, and raisins, and deep fried. It was proclaimed delicious by everyone else at the table, but I didn't try it (serious aversion to potatoes--a texture issue). The tostones were very comparable to those I've had at other ethnic restaurants. I like them a little more salted, but it was easy to add some extra salt myself.
Warm bread and butter were brought to the table--fine, but nothing exciting. But then she brought out something that she described as Peruvian popcorn. I'd say it was more like peruvian corn nuts. The kernels didn't pop, but were delightfully salty, crunchy, but not-too-hard corn kernels. Delicious!
My husband and I shared Arroz con Mariscos, their version of a seafood Paella. The flavor was exceptional, perfectly seasoned, deliciously spiced, and there were very generous helpings of (real!) crab, shrimp, calamari, octopus, mussles, and clams in with the rice. $12.95 for a dinner designed for two, and which definitely came with enough food to satisfy us both.
My parents shared the Inka's Jalea, also designed to feed two people, and only $14.95. It's described as "fried fish strips topped with salsa criolla and saute mixed sea food served with fried yucca and tostones." This was probably the best fried fish I've ever had (and I did as well as I could to make an exhaustive search for the best fish and chips in England this past summer). It had incredibly light crust on the outside, and was flavorful. There was a *reason* to the breading beyond crunch. The fish was moist, firm, delicious, perfectly cooked. I sampled a few other tidbits off their plate, and everything was well prepared, not overcooked, beautifully seasoned. It was an incredible bargain for the price.
My daughter, brother, and his girlfriend all ordered Peruvian fried rice--chicken, beef, chicken, respectively. I sampled my daughter's Chaufa de Pollo, and thought it was delicious. Even her child-sized serving was incredibly generous, enough to feed four of her.
We all were stuffed by the end of the meal, but split a Pionono eight ways. A dense, eggy cake rolled up jelly-roll style with a thick caramel-like filling. Divine! They had some cookies with the same filling in the pastry case that looked irresistible, too. $3.95 for the pionono.
The entire bill for eight people, including seven entrées (I'm counting each double-sized, extra expensive entrée designed for two as two separate entrées for this tally), two appetizers, four drinks, and one dessert, came to only $76 and change. What a feast for that price!
I certainly hope some other chowhounds will give this place a try soon. They've only been open since December 17th, but we were the only people in the place the entire time we dined there tonight. I'd really love to see them have success.
29089 S. Dobson Road Suite 21
Mesa, AZ 85202
Open 11:30am to 9pm Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday)
Cornish Pasty Co
1941 W Guadalupe Rd, Mesa, AZ
Reporting back on lunch today.
It's authentic, all right, and some of what we had was.. okay, but unless we caught four off dishes, I see no compelling reason to go here with Contigo Peru a mile down the road.
First up was the Causa Rellena de Camaron, lime and aji amarillo spiked mashed potatoes layered with egg salad and topped with a poached shrimp. Setting aside that substituting a lone poached shrimp for chicken added two dollars to the dish, it just wasn't done with nearly the precision of Contigo. Very loose egg salad, messily plated, underseasoned, unbalanced... if this had been my first taste of causa, I might not have bothered to try it again. And I dig a good causa.
Ceviche was a little more successful (we actually ordered the tiradito, but were okay with the ceviche and didn't bother to send it back). Catfish today, though I don't know if that's the norm. A generous helping, long slices heavy with lime and hot with chiles, topped with slivered onions and set next to half a boiled sweet potato. No cancha or any other accompaniments. It was rather one-dimensional, and didn't have the depth that I've had in good Peruvian ceviche. Not a bad dish, but a disappointment compared to other local offerings.
Aji de Gallina was the best of the day, a solid rendition, creamy with a little zip, though I'm suspicious about when it was made. But not to play on suspicions, this still isn't in the same league as Contigo's, its only advantage being that it's available all week rather than only on the weekends (though if my suspicions are correct, that's actually a disadvantage).
Pescado a lo Macho was a bust. No zip, no life, flat and underseasoned. The fried fish (catfish again) was limp and lifeless, and the accompanying squid was tough, rubbery and cold. Nothing redeeming about it at all.
Unless I caught a remarkably off day (and the norm would have to be a *lot* better for me to change my mind), don't bother. Drive a couple of minutes down the road and go to Contigo.