House Ceviche

A strong, chilly Pacific breeze swirled through the cavernous open-air dining room at Cafe BarKo, which was blanketed with a suffocating Monday evening silence. A few scant couples carrying on quiet conversations were seated here and there, forks clinking on plates, flapping napkins pinned under glasses of white wine, bored servers hovering near the bar like docile zombies (somebody needed to be cut).

We’d been ambling down the palm tree-lined Amador Causeway for about half an hour or so, and decided Isla Perico, one of four small islands connected by this narrow strip of land located near the southern entrance of the Panama Canal, was where we’d stop to plot the rest of our night over a snack and a drink. Despite the decidedly muted atmosphere, as well as an abandoned sushi bar near the back that raised red flags, we thought we’d give BarKo a try since everywhere else we’d walked by was fairly empty too.

(The Causeway is normally a popular spot for active pursuits like running and roller blading, as well as for wining and dining. Like in many cities around the world, however, weekday nights are generally dead, at least according to our server. He also told us that BarKo had recently relocated here from another island on the Causeway, which explained the vacated sushi bar.)

We weren’t expecting much, so we didn’t want to order much, and our friendly server didn’t seem to mind much that we weren’t going to be running up a big tab. My wife ordered a glass of wine, I a bottle of beer, and on our server’s recommendation we split an order of the house ceviche.

Wow.

Served in a hollowed-out coconut shell with a side of plantain chips, BarKo’s corvina (sea bass) ceviche turned out to be a revelation, and was probably the best I tasted during my short time in Panama City. Like most ceviche the fish was mixed with onions and cilantro, but the differentiating ingredient in BarKo’s version is coconut milk, a somewhat surprisingly good match for the acidity of the citrus juice-cured corvina.

We devoured it, fighting over the last few bites, and left swearing to return and dive deeper into the seafood-heavy menu next time we were in Panama City, weekday evening doldrums be damned.

Cafe BarKo is located on the Amador Causeway’s Isla Perico. +507 3140000. Monday – Sunday 11:30am – 1am.

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Brian Spencer

Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance writer. He has written for BBC Travel, CNN Travel, DestinAsian, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet, and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among other publications.