Grilled T-bone steak with Chimichurri sauce and Tallerin Verde on the side.
Richard Abel|Westmore News
Grilled T-bone steak with Chimichurri sauce and Tallerin Verde on the side. Richard Abel|Westmore News
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Did you know that there are now two Peruvian restaurants in Port Chester that begin with the word Panka? The second opened Dec. 27, 2017 at 112 Willett Ave., where Cousin Frankie’s USA Grill used to be.

While Panka Peruvian Bistro, which opened Jan. 1, 2016 at 167 Westchester Ave., offers authentic Peruvian food, Panka Grill is billed as Peruvian-American fusion and specializes in grilled meats with five different sauces. Also on the menu are Peruvian specialties like Lomo Saltado ($14) and Lomo Panka (filet mignon strip steak topped with fried egg at $24) and tapas like Anticuchos (two for $10), either the traditional veal heart skewers or more American sirloin steak or thigh meat chicken skewers and South American style empanadas ($4).

Panka Grill, a much smaller space than the bistro, features a more informal but still chic atmosphere and a largely black and white color scheme. The same panca chile peppers adorn the restaurant’s signage and serve as a logo at both restaurants.

While the bistro can only serve wine and beer because of its location across the street from a church, the grill has a full bar.

The Panka eateries are owned by Janet Paulina Arapa and Rayner Melgar of Stamford and their son Reynier Melgar of Port Chester, all originally from Peru.

Reynier Melgar, who despite numerous attempts did not make himself available for an interview for this article, said back in 2016 when Panka Bistro opened that they chose Port Chester because “Port Chester is the center of Peruvian cuisine in all of Westchester. It’s a valuable location.”

There is obviously truth to those statements born out by the fact that Panka Grill makes the 11th Peruvian restaurant in the village and the third to have expanded. The first was Misti Restaurant at 110 North Main St., known for its pollo a la brasa, which opened a companion eatery just down the street at #100 called Misti Takeout, then took over the space next door to that when it became available, closed Misti Takeout and eventually expanded to become Misti Café. The latter recently opened at the corner of North Main and Adee streets after being dormant for a few years.

Similarly, La Gladys Restaurant, a tiny eatery in a mixed commercial/residential neighborhood at 453 Ellendale Ave., took forever to open, but once it did, obviously became so popular that the owners have expanded over the past several months to encompass the building next door.

Panka, too, was slow to open at its original location on Westchester Avenue but obviously was doing well enough that a companion restaurant was in the cards.

This second location is a little off the beaten track because it doesn’t face a street but is literally located in the Shoppers’ Parking Lot off Willett Avenue behind Artemis hair salon. So signage is important and the owners have put lots of it on the outside of the building at all levels, all with their trademark red chile peppers.

Named for a pepper

The aji panca for which Panka is named is a kind of chile pepper that is very significant for Peruvians, according to Angel Bojanovich, the original Peruvian-born head chef at Panka Bistro. “That kind of chile is the base for all kinds of food.”

These peppers have an elongated lantern shape, are 3 to 5 inches long and 1 1/2 inches across. They start out green, mature to a deep red color close to mahogany and have a sweet smoky flavor with subtle fruity notes.

Dinner for three

I have only experienced one meal at Panka Grill so far on a Sunday night and found it pleasant enough that I plan to return.

We started with three tapas—Albondigas de Pavo ($7), which brought a generous portion of deliciously moist turkey meatballs in the chef’s tasty tomato sauce, Empanadas ($4), two large South American style patties with a thick pastry outside stuffed with a chicken and potato mixture drizzled with a white sauce, and Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms ($9). The latter brought six smallish mushrooms with a slightly sweet-tasting filling which were disappointingly lukewarm.

For the main course, my daughter chose the T-bone ($21) with chimichurri sauce (finely chopped parsley and garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil) on the side although the recommended sauce for this meat was garlic butter. It was perfectly cooked medium rare but even a little salty for her taste, and she likes her meat well-seasoned. The steak that night came with a good portion of Tallerin Verde (spaghetti with Peruvian pesto sauce) while it usually costs $7 extra as a side, so that was a good deal for this appealing Peruvian special.

My husband was pleased with the Lomo Saltado made with sirloin strip steak, sautéed tomatoes and onions and served with homemade fries and a healthy scoop of white rice on the side. Oftentimes the fries are mixed into this Peruvian specialty or on the bottom with the meat, tomato and onion mixture on top, but here they are separate.

Originally having ordered the Paella Espanola ($24), I substituted the Center Cut Pork Chop ($17) with chimichurri sauce on the side when the chef was missing a key ingredient to make the paella. I got two good-sized pork chops which were a little dry but perked up with the sauce on them. I ordered the flavorful Arroz Chaufa (Peruvian style fried rice at $6) as a side and was amazed at the size of the portion. Needless to say, I brought enough food home for an enjoyable meal the next day.

Other sauces to choose from to go with the meats are Béarnaise, white truffle mushroom and peppercorn. You can also request hot sauce which is pink and very spicy.

With our meal we enjoyed a bottle of organic Natura Valle del Rapel Malbec from Chile and found it smooth, earthy and reasonably priced at $32.

Because the paella was unavailable, our pleasant and informed server gave us a small discount on my meal. The check totaled $115.33.

Other menu items

I didn’t notice them on the dinner menu, but for takeout and brunch, the latter served Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., sandwiches such as Lomo Saltado on chiabata bread ($9), Chicharron con Camote ($9) (crispy pork, sweet potato fries and salsa criolla on an artisan roll), Chivito al Pan ($12) (skirt steak, ham, mozzarella, fried egg, bacon, lettuce & tomato on a baguette), Rotisserie Chicken, lettuce, tomato and house special sauce ($8) and a 10-ounce Panka Burger with cheddar jack cheese, pickled onions, chipotle aioli topped with housemade guacamole ($12) are available.

The brunch menu also includes omelets, Eggs Benedict or any style, pancakes, French toast, Croque Monsieur, soups and Peruvian specials.

Décor

Besides the main dining room, which seats about 35 plus another six at the multi-colored granite-topped bar, there is a room for parties upstairs.

The focal point in the dining room is “This is my NY Accent” scrawled in large white letters on a black wall to look like graffiti with “Normally I write like this” in smaller, neater writing below.

On the opposite wall “WINE” is spelled out in metal, partially-filled cork holders flanked by large corkscrews in wooden shadow boxes. On the same wall as the bar a black metal sign with letters cut out to spell “Panka Grill: Peruvian American Fusion” catches your eye.

It was hard to tell the color of the tile floor at night, but it seemed to be a mixture of beige and green hues.

Tables are covered with black cloths and set with matching napkins. Chairs have metal framework and white seats.

Hours and parking

Panka Grill is open for dinner Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 4-10 p.m., Saturday for breakfast, brunch and dinner from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sunday for breakfast, brunch and dinner from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Parking is in the paid municipal lot in which the restaurant stands which is free on Sundays and holidays.