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Des Moines' newest Latin American restaurant is bringing Peruvian dishes to Ingersoll Avenue. Here's first a look at Panka Peruvian Restaurant. Brian Taylor Carlson, btaylorcar@dmreg.com

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Tucked between two chain restaurants in Des Moines is the metro's latest international eatery with South American flavors.

Panka Peruvian Restaurant opened its doors to the public Feb. 2 at 2708 Ingersoll Avenue, Suite B. It's owned by Fabiola Carlin, 43, and Mariela Maya, 41, both originally from Lima, Peru.

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Named for the ají panca pepper — central to Peruvian cuisine — Panka is the only Peruvian restaurant in Des Moines at this time. It seats 49 people.

"Peruvian cuisine is a representation of all of our history," Carlin said. "I cannot pinpoint just one ingredient. It's about variety."

Carlin and Maya, who are lifelong friends, have been planning the restaurant for just over a year. The two met in Lima. Maya's brother-in-law, Roberto Yui, has been their mentor, owning restaurants in the country of Colombia and also in Miami, Florida.

"We wanted to stay true to the traditional cuisine of back home," Carlin said.

Carlin worked in the hospitality industry in Lima. But she's now a fitness instructor and worked part-time doing special events at Prairie Meadows. She moved to Des Moines in 2003 with her husband, Eduardo, who is a pediatric gastroenterologist at Blank Children’s Hospital.

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Maya is in the process of moving to Des Moines from Rockford, Illinois, to help run the restaurant. She also worked in the hospitality industry and most recently as a real estate agent.

Maya helped to design the modern interior of the restaurant, along with local artist Gabriel Leuders 40, who produced much of the wooden elements, along with a still-under-construction wine rack made from concrete blocks.

Carlin's focus will be in the kitchen, while Maya plans to spend most of her time in the dining room. They are bringing a famed Peruvian chef to Des Moines to train local chefs in preparing dishes, Carlin said.

The menu

Peruvian cuisine is a blend of traditional Incan dishes using ingredients such as quinoa, potatoes (over 4,000 varieties exist in Peru), peppers, tomatoes and corn. But influences from Europe, Asia and West Africa have blended into Peruvian culinary culture to include ingredients such as chicken, beef, pork, rice and pasta. That extension includes preparation techniques such as stir fry and sashimi, too. 

The menu is laid out in six sections:

  • Share plates
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Tiradito (Peruvian sashimi)
  • Ceviches
  • Peruvian entrée classics

Plenty of seafood and meat dishes make the menu, as well as a few vegetarian/vegan options. There's even a glossary to explain some of the sauces and condiments served with the various dishes. 

Shared plates range from choros a la chalaca, steamed and chilled mussels with fresh corn, Peruvian salsa and ceviche marinade ($9) to chicharrón de cerdo, or crunchy pork belly served with a traditional onion salad with fresh lime and homemade dipping sauces ($12). Appetizers of chilled mashed potatoes called "caucas" are layered with a choice of shrimp or crab meat ($13).

Salads can be ordered with crunchy shrimp ($14), marinated chicken ($12), or salmon and eel ($16) with spring mix, vegetables and vinaigrettes.

Soups include creamy shrimp chowder, parihuela — a hearty and spicy Peruvian seafood soup with aji panca ($18) — and aguadito, a Peruvian cilantro-based soup with a choice of chicken ($12) or seafood for $3 extra.

A unique Peruvian take on sashimi, called "tiradito," is available with marinated white fish in leche de tigre (tiger's milk) ($9) or salmon with ponzu ($11). Six kinds of chilled seafood ceviches are available with a range of fish, seafood and crunchy pork chicharron in various flavors ($13 to $17). 

The leftover leche de tigre marinade from the ceviche can be poured into a cordial glass with and layered with a shot of pisco, a Peruvian brandy, for sipping. It's considered a great hangover remedy.

Entrées showcase the best of Peruvian cuisine including classics in all the various global culinary influences over the years.

Here's a sampling:

  • Lomo Saltado — stir-fried beef with onions, tomatoes and a touch of cilantro, served with rice and potato fries ($18)
  • Arroz con Chaufa de Cerdo — Asian-Peruvian fried rice with pork, ginger, scallions and Asian spices ($18)
  • Ají de Gallina — A family favorite in Lima, this creole stew is made of chicken and ají pepper, served with white rice ($18)
  • Pescado a la Chorrillana — fried fish fillet with sauteed onions, tomatoes and ají panca chili, served with white rice ($22)
  • Tallarines Verdes — Peruvian pesto spaghetti served with a choice of beef, pork or chicken ($18)

For dessert, you can enjoy lightly-sweet Peruvian dark chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, a dessert called "suspiro de limeña," which translates to "sigh of a Lima lady" — a caramel custard and meringue dessert — or lucuma meringue. Lucuma is a fruit native to Peru and Ecuador ($8 to $10).

The drinks

Two beverages are central to the Peruvian dinner table — Inca Kola, made with lemon verbena — and chicha morada, a rich drink made with purple Peruvian corn, fruit, cinnamon and cloves. Pepsi products will also be available, along with tea and coffee. 

Right now, only nonalcoholic beverages are served at Panka. But Carlin said there is no corkage fee at this time until a liquor license is in place (by Feb. 11, she hopes). Alcoholic beverages will include South American wine and cocktails centering around pisco brandy, such as pisco sours.

"We are very excited for people to give it a try," Maya said. 

Des Moines has seen a large influx of Latin cuisine lately, with the openings of Puerto Rico Restaurant, El Pollo Catracho and two Brazilian steakhouses: BAH Brazilian Steakhouse and Brazil Terra Grill.

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Panka Peruvian Restaurant

Location: 2708 Ingersoll Ave., Ste. B

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m.; Sundays, 12 to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays.

Contact: (515) 244-1430; Facebook; Instagram

 

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