|Closeup of the Ceviche Mixto|
Danbury is amazing. I'm not sure what socio-economic forces have been at work to bring such a diverse mix of food cultures to the area, but whatever it is, I like it. There's great Vietnamese. There's good Salvadoran, Mexican, Indian, Korean -- and, evidently, good Peruvian, as well. Not bad for a town roughly one one-hundredth the size of New York City.
The Danbury flagship location of Empire of the Incas (there is a second location in Bethel, CT) is in a pleasant, brick facade building on Main Street. We opted for takeout, since it was far too hot to leave Mr. Barkypants in the car, alone, and the Little One was too close to sleeping in his car seat to disturb. The twenty-table dining room looked quite nice, though, and I wouldn't hesitate to eat there under other circumstances.
We tried three items: lomo saltado, chicken tamale and ceviche mixto. The first two were lunch specials that came with soup or salad (we chose soup) and plenty of good arroz graneado, fluffy, delicious white rice cooked with a bit of oil and garlic. The soup deserves mention. It wasn't a throwaway soup from a can included just as filler for a set lunch. It was a house made chicken noodle soup with a substantial hunk of chicken (mine was part of a drumstick, I think); a sweet, semi-firm hunk of potato; slivers of carrots and celery; and most importantly, good broth, all topped with a sprinkle of cilantro. Even correcting for hunger, this was a good soup.
|Chicken Noodle Soup|
The lomo saltado included slender strips of tender(ized) beef, cooked just until medium. The peppers used in the dish were ordinary sweet red peppers, not aji amarillo or another type of spicy pepper and there was a hint of liquid smoke flavor to mimic wok hai. But all the components were nicely cooked, retaining their shape and texture. The dish didn't knock any socks off, but it was an enjoyable version of a classic.
The Lima-style chicken tamale was made with a loose, moist dough of ground fresh (or perhaps frozen) corn kernels, not masa like Mexican tamales, and egg yolk, steamed in a banana leaf. The filling included only lightly seasoned, non-spicy chicken, without the peanuts, hardboiled eggs or olives often included in Peruvian tamales, but it was tender and flavorful. I did miss the punch of pickled red onions or salsa criolla, which usually accompany Peruvian tamales. Without them, the tamale was slightly bland.
|Peruvian-Style Chicken Tamale|
Ceviche mixto came with white fish, shrimp, mussels (two), calamari and octopus. The octopus was quite rubbery, prepared with the slippery skin intact, but the other seafood ranged from fair (mussels) to very good (white fish and shrimp). Fish had been added to the leche de tigre just prior to serving and was not over "cooked" (overmarinated). In fact, some of the larger pieces were actually a bit undercooked. Despite the unevenly sized, unevenly marinated pieces of fish, the dish did evidence a good amount of attention to detail. Leche de tigre tasted like it was made with freshly squeezed limes. Pickled red onions had been very thinly sliced. The generous slice of sweet potato was quite sweet, but it wasn't artificially potent. (Some restaurants cook the sweet potatoes in sugar syrup or other sweeteners in an effort to enhance their appeal.) The corn used was the authentic, large-kerneled Peruvian variety.
Really, the only thing we tried that I didn't enjoy was the overly mayonnaisey aji sauce. Every Peruvian restaurant in the US seems to have its own version and to be fair, I'm really just very partial to the version at Pio Pio in NYC.
Based on the limited portion of the menu we tried, Empire of the Incas seems to be a very solid restaurant. We'll surely be back for more.
241 Main Street
Danbury, CT 06810
Food Rating: B+