Drunk After Work: Casa Inka
The Hours: Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.
The Deal: All beers, including Cusqueño, the indigenous Inkan lager, are $2; half-price on appetizers and wines.
The Scene: There's a perfunctory poster of Macchu Pichu, faux thatched roofing indoors, ample use of bamboo and a feeling you're somewhere far away from Fountain Valley. Those who come for the happy hour use it to discount appetizers and libations for dinner.
Though the customers are mostly actual Peruvians, your waitress might not be. One particular blond server stands out as charming, professional and doting. For happy hour, she'll tell you can sit anywhere in the restaurant. And you should. No need to stick around at the bar, unless you really have a desire to catch whatever is on the TV.
The Sauce: Wines from Turner Road, Chilean vitner Gato Negro, Gato Blanco, Haywood and Beringer are discounted to half-price. It's typically around $6 per glass. At $5.50, a variety of margaritas and daiquiris aren't discounted. What you really want is Cusqueño, a beer as crisp and light as a Mexican cerveza but with the depth of a German pilsner.
The Food: No one loves potatoes more than the Peruvians, the culture we can thank for them and who recently donated 4,000 varieties of native Andean potatoes to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The best appetizers to be had at Casa Inka involves potatoes, and the best of those is the causa: a chilled mashed potato molded into a cylinder with in-between layers of creamed avocado and even-creamier tuna, chicken or crab. Need more potato? Try the papa rellenas, huge croquettes filled with ground beef, olives and a hard-boiled egg. Or the papa à la huancaina, the Incan answer to potatoes au gratin.
The skewered anticuchos are good, but not as filling as you'd probably like it to be if this is going to be dinner. Same can be said of the steamed mussels, though they are enlivened with a perky salsa criolla while the empanadas are braided wonders of flakiness. The fried calamari, though, is just fried calamari until you dip it in sauce. Skip the tartar sauce; instead, use the herbaceous green aji or the hellishly spicy red aji sauces, which actually comes as a side with complimentary toasted bread.
The Verdict: Potato-based appetizers will fill you up and make you happy; washed down with $2 Cusqueño beers will make you happier.
The Grade: A.
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