Fourteen emperors of the Inca ruled the Andes for almost 300 years. In honor of their sun god Inti, they erected large monolithic structures. Inti must have smiled the day when 14 Inkas opened in the city’s main shopping district of the Zona Rosa.
Entering through a towering structure of glass and steel, you find a pleasing dining room. Clean and sparse, discrete patterns of coral reefs and marine life repeat throughout, punctuated by a stunning wall of foliage in the outdoor garden.
The staff is welcoming and knowledgeable. The menu is flirtatious in its descriptions, playfully tempting the diner to experience what has become the cuisine of the moment. A glossary of culinary terms enlightens the uninitiated.
True to the Incan tradition of having an extended family, a children’s menu offers enchanting choices (baby beef and breaded fish for example) for the most discerning customers. On our lunch visit, it is decidedly business people and ladies who have been enjoying an afternoon of shopping who clamour about.
Besides the outdoor garden, the two-floor restaurant, designed by Giancarlo Mazzanti, boasts a ceviche bar and lounge area. There for lunch, we start off with one of the many fresh juices made to order and nibble on the nutty corn kernels. Our waiter recommends ceviches and tiraditos. With exotic names like “cebiche a la piedra” or “tiraditos guiados con leche de tigre,” they are hard to resist. Leche de Tigre is the leftover milky substance that is created after the corvine or sea bass has been marinated with lemon juice and cilantro. Rocoto, a spicy chili pepper, is added to give it the attractive jolt in the clear sauce that envelops the fish.
The tiradito of sea bass was glisteningly white in color and delicate in flavor. The cebiche de tamarindo was restrained with a slight picante taste given off by the Aji amarillo – a yellow chili pepper found in Peru that has as much sweetness as it does heat. The cebiche a la piedra arrived in a martini glass, served with toasted yucca crisps. The lightly-coated fish nuggets were sautéed and tossed with an ocopa mixture. Crispy and light, they rested on the familiar ceviche base like pearls in an oyster shell. This is an ultramodern approach that works.
Among the rices, causas, soups and sautees, we settle on the “tacu sabana.” A by-product of the Afro-Peruvian slave trade, this tasty use of leftover rice and beans is a cousin of Colombia’s calentado. Nowadays, chefs around Peru have refreshed their preparations using lentils and fava beans. At 14 Inkas, the tacu is prepared to the minute. A lentil cake gently infused with cumin, carrying a roll of beef fillet and a nest of plantain strips is brought to the table. A glossy egg sits precociously on top… what a mouthful.
There are many tempting and innovative choices with the deserts. The bananaquipe is a tropical blast of nougat, banana mousse and coconut laced with arequipe presented in a Viennese rectangle. The suspiro a la limeña, a typical Peruvian dessert is airy with cinnamon-infused merengue whispers and dulce de leche cream.
14 Inkas serves a casual ambience and emphasizes an affordable chicness. A meal for two, including starters, but without wine, averages $150,000 (US$80). The menu is not one for change. Like the Mazzanti building, 14 Inkas is locked in culinary time. Maybe the owners are waiting for the 15th Inca dynasty to begin in the Colombian capital.
Carrera 12 No. 84 – 55