Fort Myers: Argentina Meets Peru (with some Italy, too)
When Argentinean chef/owner Mariano Maldonado married Peruvian Rocio Navarrete, they paired the cuisines of their homelands, plus Italian, to create El Gaucho Inca.
It’s a homey spot with friendly knowledgeable staff at the former home of Artistic Deli in a strip shopping center a little more than a mile west of I-75 on Colonial Boulevard
The Peruvian tamal ($5) is triple the size of Mexican tamales, with unique spicing—it’s enough for a meal for lighter eaters. Grilled skewered shrimp with chimichurri sauce are another great appetizer.
Conchitas a la Parmesana ($12) are a savory appetizer—six scallops on the half shell luxuriate in a rich, oven-broiled Parmesan-cream sauce. Fish lovers go for the pescado a lo macho’s sautéed fish fillet topped with shrimp, mussels, and calamari in a mildly spiced aji amarillo sauce.
Adventuresome diners will swoon over the Argentinian achuras ($18)—wonderfully grilled organ meats, grilled sweet peppers and baked eggplant .
Italian treats include Milanesa a la Napolitana, canelones, fettucini a lo Alfredo, raviolis, and gnocchi. Mariano’s mom makes the pastas fresh every day. Argentinian steaks and specials like matambre, flank steak, empanandas, and fideos con camarones are to be savored with a Malbec, Shiraz or Cabernet. I recommend the Peruvian lucuma fruit cake and the Argentinian caramel-topped flan desserts. Peruvian folk dancing shows are a hit. Tango will be offered this summer. With three delicious cuisines in one spot, I could eat here weekly. 4391 Colonial Blvd, 275-7504, elgauchoinca.com
Great Middle Eastern Fare in Naples
Fabulous Pita, Naples’ newest restaurant, serves Middle Eastern classics like falafel on pita ($7), hummus platter ($7), beef kabob, and my favorite Sammy’s shawarma platter with vertically roasted turkey breast sliced gyros-style, tomatoes, cucumbers and tahini sauce, all in a pita sandwich.
The main platters include the unlimited salad bar’s bounty of Israeli salad, Moroccan carrots, sautéed red beets, heavenly fried eggplant, and other fresh creations—all a magnet for savvy vegetarians. This salad bar alone is only $5.49. There’s American fare as well, with beef hot dog, chili dog, fish and chips, and kids meals. Open only two weeks; they already have regulars. The Weezee’s pastrami sandwich is one of the best I’ve had. Italian Louise Shamir partnered with ex-husband, Israeli-Moroccan Sam Shamir, to create a welcoming casual dining spot.
The pricing is wallet- friendly, and all is made daily from scratch 6434 Naples Blvd., Naples, 860-1319
Naples: Kids Summer Cooking Camp with Wynn’s Market.
One of the best cooking classes around is in Naples at Wynn’s Market Summer Cooking Camp. I attended one day’s class and was highly impressed with Executive Chef Annie Prizzi’s inspiring teaching methods and the huge, modern kitchen. Add a weekly class size of eight enthusiastic pre-teens and you’ve got a recipe for success.
From 8 a.m. to noon weekdays, each student gets hands-on experience preparing three or four dishes. They made dough and baked tasty carrot cake, foccacia bread, and luscious fudge brownies while I watched. Other creations include: grilled chicken wings with Asian sauce, homemade fajitas from scratch, berry pies and quiche Lorraine. This one week gives the young cooks more hands-on baking and cooking skills than many college graduates have.
The remaining one-week summer sessions, July 18 to August 12, are for 6-12 year olds. $100 covers all instruction and supplies, including lunches and fresh meals to share at home. Wynn’s Catering, 1090 First Ave. South, Naples, 261-7157
Southwest Florida Food and Wine Dinners
M Waterfront Grill’s Summer Chef Series features six of Naples hottest chefs co-hosting a special dinner. The five-course dinners have a featured ingredient for each event and optional wine pairings. Each chef prepares two courses and collaborates with M’s chef, Brian Roland, on dessert. Roland also makes two courses. On June 27th, Handsome Harry’s chef, Tony Biagetti, crafts Kurobuta pork into Barolo braised pork cheese ravioli, fennel cured pork belly, and pistachio-wrapped rack of pork. Roland prepares crispy pork consommé, vanilla-spice rubbed pork tenderloin. Both chefs collaborate on crispy sweet cured bacon with bourbon-pecan tuille. It’s $95 per person, with $45 additional for wine pairings. 4300 Gulf Shore Boulevard North, Naples, 263-4421
Hemingway’s Island Grille’s four-course dinner on June 29 pairs a different fine wine with each course for $37.95. There’s Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc with brie pastry with raspberry preserves, Estancia Meritage gracing tortilla dusted swordfish with sweet corn, 2007 Franciscan Cabernet complementing seared filet mignon over brandy demi-gace and Nobilio Pinot Noir matching a flourless bourbon-chocolate torte with cherry sabayon. 8001 Plaza Del Lago Dr , # 113 Estero, 495-7240
It’s a Wine Throwdown at Decanted
Decanted Wines’ next Throwdown will feature more than 30 wines from any country ‘down under’ the Equator (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Argentina). This series may well be the best tasting in Southwest Florida. The event runs from 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 29. Admission is $25 per person and limited to the first 50 reservations. 1410 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, 434-1814
Haskell’s Wine and Spirits will close by July, offering 30% off wines. The competition with big boxes like Costco, and Total wine took its toll. 2021 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, 254-1120
Let’s broaden our choices of great Southwest Florida restaurants together. Post your hints and experiences below or e-mail me at [email protected]