The first difference you’ll notice between El Gaucho Inca in Fort Myers and the new El Gaucho Inca Bistro in Naples is the name. That six-letter add-on—“bistro”—changes everything.
Similar to the Lee County version, the new Naples restaurant promises a menu influenced by three countries: Argentina, Peru and Italy (because much of South America’s population can trace roots to the Apennine peninsula, regional specialties can as well). But from the instant my dinner companion and I walked through the bistro’s door, I knew this dining experience would be different from what we’d known in Fort Myers. The Naples restaurant is smaller, more refined, with an upscale atmosphere and menu. You won’t find plates of beans and rice here or a fried egg cracked on top of your steak. What you’ll discover instead is exquisite filet mignon, pork and pasta dishes to rival the best restaurants in Naples.
My companion and I began our evening with traditional Peruvian cocktails ($12 each) made from pisco, a type of brandy. Our waiter mixed the drinks behind the bar, splitting an egg and separating out the white for a pisco sour and pouring from a heavy glass jug of pisco steeped with chica morada (a combination of blue corn and cinnamon) for the chilcano. The flavors were exotic, smooth and easy to drink.
We started our meal with empanadas ($9), my favorite dish at the Fort Myers restaurant, and they were as good as the originals—lightly fried with perfectly seasoned fillings of chicken and beef. We also split an order of exceptional ceviche ($18), which arrived in true Peruvian style with chunks of white fish, octopus and shrimp in lime juice accompanied by kernels of corn and slices of sweet potato.
Several of the tables near us had ordered the parrillada, a mixed grill popular in Argentina that includes a selection of skirt steak, short ribs, chicken breasts, pork medallions and blood sausage. My friend and I briefly considered splitting the meats, but we opted for our own plates instead. I had the filet de catito ($34), a center-cut filet mignon with a sauce of diced tomatoes, black and green olives, and capers served with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The dish was refined while offering flavors that felt true to South America. My companion had the pork chop in a mushroom demi-glace accompanied by mashed potatoes and asparagus ($29). This felt truer to the restaurant’s nod to the region’s Italian hold.
To complete our meal, we ordered the Argentinean-style flan ($7-pictured) and the chocolate lava cake filled with a dulce de leche center ($8). The flan, presented as a small round, was firm and not too sweet—different from the looser, more custard-like flans I’ve known but still excellent. The lava cake’s molten milk-caramel center offered a sublime take on the classic dessert.
The restaurant had slowly filled as we ate, and by the time we finished I realized that the tables surrounding us were all speaking Spanish. This felt like a strong endorsement for the authenticity of the cuisine, and I’d happily vouch for its deliciousness.
El Gaucho Inca Bistro
2700 Immokalee Road, 239-431-7928, elgauchoinca.com. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; and Sunday, 2-8 p.m. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations encouraged.