Inka Heritage [Closed]
602 S Park Street
First off, Inka Heritage gets major cultural awareness points for using Juan Velasco’s 1975 Quechua orthography that spells “Inka” with a K instead of a C (which is an Imperial Spanish spelling). Velasco wasn’t the best guy, but his transliterations were top-notch. Well done. Now on to the food.
We tend to review a fair amount of Peruvian restaurants, and with good reason – we feel that Peruvian cuisine is well on its way to competing with Thai food as a major player in the US food scene. Which is why we were so excited when Inka Heritage, the first Peruvian restaurant in the Madison city limits, opened in 2007. We have been back multiple times since our first visit shortly after the opening (when they could not make nearly half the items on their own menu) but are happy to report that the restaurant has grown into its own with great interpretations of all the classic Peruvian dishes, as well as the best lúcuma mousse we’ve found outside Peru.
At most Peruvian restaurants, I have my set of usuals: anticuchos, an originally Afro-Peruvian dish of skewered, marinated pieces of beef heart with a side a ají, and ceviche pescado acid cooked in citrus juice and garnished with sweet potatoes and big corn (I still don’t know the proper name for it). L likes to get the aji de pollo, shredded chicken smothered in an aji cream sauce garnished with a hard-boiled egg and served with rice. And for dessert, we split the aforementioned lúcuma mousse; made from an Andean fruit rarely available outside of South America with a taste somewhere between sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and cashews. It is delectable.
Inka Heritage does all these things, and does them well. The anticuchos are true to the original dish, using the best pieces of beef heart muscle (some other restaurants keep the anticuchos marinade but substitute white meat chicken for the beef hearts, which is not only inauthentic but culinary highway robbery) with a slightly spicy, tangy marinade that works well with the ají on the side. The ceviche too is solid, with the right citrus juice mixtures we’ve come to expect – though the very high onions to fish ratio, as well as the smaller serving size, makes us wonder why the price is higher than what we found at Rosa de Lima in Chicago. L’s aji de pollo is a failsafe dish, one we do not always see at other restaurants, and well worth it at Inka Heritage. The dish’s cream sauce is packed with interesting flavor combinations (“yellow pepper, garnished with roasted walnut, fresh parmesan cheese, botija black olive, boiled egg” says the menu) that are probably best suited to the shredded chicken, allowing all the flavors to surround each chicken piece. Mix in with the rice, and it is easily one of Inka Heritage’s best dishes.
The menu does, of course, offer a number of other options outside of our traditional favorites that are well worth sampling, particularly in the seafood department. Overall, Inka Heritage can run a bit on the pricy side (the average entrée is about $13), but the restaurant’s increasingly elegant ambience (considerably moreso now than when it opened) make it a great place for a classy night out with a group or date. Madison has a number of great dining options, but we try to get back as often as we can – especially to introduce friends to Peruvian cuisine who have not tried it before.