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Dining out: El Inti Peruvian Cuisine

My husband was not particularly thrilled to be accompanying me for a meal at El Inti Peruvian Cuisine.

Not that I was surprised. A true corn-fed, Midwestern, meat-and-potatoes man, he is always happy to visit a burger place with me, or a steak place. At Italian restaurants, he can order lasagna; at Mexican places, a chicken chimichanga.

But Peruvian food sounded far, far too exotic to be comfortable for my man.

So imagine our mutual surprise when he thoroughly relished his lomo saltado, counting it among the more delicious meals we've had in months.

El Inti is one of those places whose outside — an unprepossessing rectangle next to a 7-Eleven on an obscure stretch of State Street — doesn't at all match its inside. The long but spacious dining room was elegantly appointed in dark, rich colors, with a mix of tables and booths, and soft but adequate lighting.

There was not a lot of staff at work on the night we visited; the person who seated us also served our meals. That meant we and other diners tended to wait unacknowledged in the front lobby for longer than is comfortable before we were greeted and seated.

I like menus like El Inti's: a good but modest selection, with a menu that fits on one page. It's particularly nice if, like us, diners are not familiar with Peruvian food.

We started with the papa a la huancaina, a stack of thick-sliced warm potatoes covered with a generous ladle of tangy, just-spicy cheese sauce and garnished with a boiled-egg quarter and olives. It reminded me simultaneously, and in a good way, of my mom's cold potato salad and of that Utah favorite, funeral potatoes.

We also had the ensalada andina, a charmingly presented salad consisting mainly of gently seasoned quinoa, a grain-like seed with a creamy-chewy texture and nutty flavor that's enjoying a vogue among health-conscious Americans.

However, long ago quinoa was considered precious to ancient Incas, so it fits well on El Inti's menu. The salad itself consisted of a mound of tomato-ringed quinoa resting on a bed of greens, with a cluster of tiny long-stemmed mushrooms standing in the center. The flavors were all subtle and all worked beautifully together.

For dinner, my husband had the lomo saltado, a lovely dish of sliced sirloin marinated in soy sauce and sautéed with onions and tomatoes. It was served over nicely browned house-cut steak fries, with a scoop of basmati rice on the side. I had just a bite or two and can't wait to go back and get some of my own.

Not that my meal, the aji de gallina, had anything wrong with it. Aji amarillo, a yellow pepper, is an integral part of Peruvian cooking, deployed here as the base for a gently flavored creamy sauce full of tender pulled chicken, with rice and browned potatoes on the side and a garnish of boiled egg and olives. Though I'd never had it before, it tasted like comfort food.

For dessert, the kitchen was out of the picarones pastry I hoped to try, so we went with more comfort food, the rice pudding with guanabana fruit, cloves and cinnamon.

Appetizers $4.99-$6, entrées $10.99-$17, desserts $3.75-$4.75.

El Inti

★★★

Where: 8475 S. State, Sandy

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. lunch, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. dinner, Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. lunch, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. dinner, Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday

Phone: 801-566-3989

Wheelchair access: Accessible

Also: Reservations accepted, weekend live music, vegetarian and vegan options available, to-go orders accepted; on the Web at www.elinticuisine.com

e-mail: skratz@desnews.com