Photo credit to Naples Daily News.

On our never-ending search for distinct dining experiences, we rode the trail up to Fort Myers to enter the rustic ranch lifestyle of a gaucho on the South American pampas. The minute the door closes to the outside world, suburban Florida is left behind and the scene is set for Argentinian adventure – with a few jaunts to Peru. The longhorn cattle skulls, cowboy hats, and wagon wheels set the stage for authentic South American-style cooking.

El Gaucho Inca is the culinary offspring of a Peruvian- Argentinian marriage. When Peru native Rocio Navarrete and Argentinian chef Mariano Maldonado got together 12 years ago, the chef was forced to expand his repertoire of flavors, venturing into the cuisine of Peru, with its influence from the native Inca population, along with European immigrants. Of course, he would never abandon the meat-laden menu of Argentina!

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“Every day here we have a special from my husband; what he wants to eat from Argentina, he prepares,” says his wife in a heavy Peruvian accent, warmly telling us to call her “Rosie,” which is easier for her American guests to pronounce. Her South American hospitality is as genuine as her admiration for her husband’s cooking: “He also makes what I want to eat from Peru,” she adds. The resulting fusion of flavors is something unique, with touches of the two countries found throughout the menu – and the decor – of El Gaucho Inca.

“We want to transport you to Peru, then Argentina, and Italy also,” Rosie says, mentioning the house-made pasta, a nod to the culinary influence of European settlers. We start our culinary journey with Argentinian Malbec wine (the country boasts the largest Malbec acreage in the world), followed by an array of ethnic appetizers and entrées. Giant kernels of corn are incorporated into the traditional Peruvian dishes, grown plentifully in the Andes region.

Seafood of all sorts also is abundant on the menu, along with an array of succulent sauces made from native peppers. Saddle up for a globe-trotting adventure into the South American cuisine of El Gaucho Inca.

OUR FAVORITES

01. CAPRESE DEL GAUCHO

A traditional Italian Caprese salad goes gaucho-style with the addition of meat. Delicately sliced, aged Prosciutto di Parma tops the fresh tomatoes, basil and thick-sliced mozzarella, all drizzled with olive oil and balsamic reduction.

02. CEVICHE MIXTO

The national dish of Peru, ceviche is made with fresh fi sh and cooked seafood, marinated in lime juice and served with a medley of red onions, cilantro, and fine herbs, with a hint of rocoto chili. Ceviche Mixto is served with toasted and fresh Peruvian corn, along with tender slices of cooked sweet potato. Also, try the signature Tiradito Ceviche, served sashimi style in creamy Aji Amarillo chili sauce.

03. APPETIZER/CONCHITAS A LA PARMESAN

Scallops are broiled au gratin with a bubbly blend of three pieces of cheese melted on top, incorporating a trace of Peruvian Pisco brandy. The dish is presented in a scallop shell sure to delight any beachcomber.

04. PERUVIAN DELICACIES/PARIHUELA A LA CREAM

This traditional Peruvian Bouillabaisse is full of flavors from the sea. Chef Mariano uses shrimp, mussels, scallops, octopus and calamari – tentacles and all – in this savory seafood stew. A popular cousin to this flavorful dish is the Pescado a lo Macho, which is a spicier fish entrée served with a creamy seafood medley and rice.

05. ARGENTINIAN GRILL/MEAT LOVERS PARRILLADA

This mound of meats is definitely a cowboy’s paradise. Everyone smells this sizzling entrée as it’s delivered to the table in mouthwatering style. A mini-grill is piled with beef, chicken, and pork. Dark morcilla (blood sausage) is alternated with Argentinian sausage on one end while the rest is a pile of picanha, skirt steak, NY strip, beef short rib, chicken breast and pork chops, all seasoned with Argentinian rock salt.

06. DESSERT/DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKE

Argentina also is known for its sweets. The Dulce de Leche Cheesecake is gooey goodness, topped with Argentinian caramel and lightly sprinkled with rock salt. Also try the traditional Argentinian-style Flan, one of the most famous South American treats, coupling caramelized sugar with dulce de leche over creamy custard.

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