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Quito, Ecuador Experiences


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Restaurants & Bars

Quito, Ecuador Experiences

Alan Gardner | | Jul 15, 2001 07:01 PM

I was in Quito for a Saturday and Sunday – but 1 week apart. In response to a previous post, I was recommended to go to La Choza for Ecuadorean food, and Casa de mi Abuela for ‘kooky steak’.

On the Saturday, we wanted a ‘last fine meal’ before heading off for the Galapagos so, based on several guidebook recommendations, chose Mare Nostrum (Tamayo and Foch) – by repute possibly the best restaurant in Quito. As it was only 2 blocks from the hotel, I checked it out first – a gorgeous renovated mansion with good wine list and attractive menu choices. Expensive by Ecuadorean standards but reasonable for North America. We put on our finest and returned about 7:30, and were escorted up the path by an armed guard to the front door. There we rang the hanging doorbell and a small flap in the door was opened to survey us (reminded me of all the speakeasy entrances in gangster films). We must have passed, for we were admitted and ushered past various antiques to one of several rooms where we were seated and promptly served. The restaurant is noted for its seafood, so we chose a Chilean Sparkler and browsed the heavy, steak-house style leather menus. We both chose from the ‘House Specialties’ section, and I ordered sampler-style dishes to taste as many as possible.

So far, so good – in fact, excellent – until the food arrived! My 4 course sampler was served simultaneously on what looked like a cloverleaf – each dish on its own plate. Not a problem really, except that each dish was worse than the last. The octopus was so chewy I was unable to finish a single piece – overcooked to destruction. The two gorgeous looking jumbo shrimp had been overcooked to chewing gum consistency. My stone crab crepe had been made without separating the ligaments, which couldn’t be seen (lighting was extremely romantic), so although the taste was passable, each mouthful was an adventure of separating the objective from the debris – how do whales manage this? I alternately choked and removed pieces stuck between my teeth. The sea-bass was dried out.
Catherine had ordered the lobster, which appeared to be a large crayfish. Again, so overcooked it was rubbery, although a little flavor remained.

My Spanish was not good enough to complain to the waiter, who probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway as he was listening to a Walkman every time he served us (no it wasn’t a link to the kitchen – we heard the music).

For dessert (hey, I was still hungry) I had a spectacular sorbet, made from Naranjilla – if anyone gets to Ecuador, try this fruit which tastes something like a cross between a lime and passion fruit.

Finally, the most disturbing part of the evening. They wouldn’t let us leave without calling for a taxi. We had walked there (twice; once to check out the menu earlier). It was only 2 blocks, but we were told it was too dangerous. It wasn’t a matter of cost (only $1 for the cab), but the thought that this would be necessary. There is crime in Quito after dark, but mostly in the ‘Old City’ whereas we were in the ‘New City’. Pure conjecture on my part, but it may be that people exiting from Mare Nostrum have been targeted as ‘rich tourists’ and robbed in the past. At no time in the New City did we see or hear anything that was threatening (including walking after dark to/from other restaurants). Suddenly, the armed guard, the need to ring, the inspection door then another locked door became ominous.

Returning a week later, we had hoped to pre-order Ecuadorean specialties at La Choza (12 du Octubre and Cordero), but it was not to be. On Sunday they’re only open for lunch, so we deferred our hoped-for cuy until Cusco. We tried for Casa di mi Abuela (Juan Leon Mera a couple of blocks N of Colon) – but it also was closed on Sunday. We ended up at Adam’s Rib (Calama just NW of Reina Victoria), which is essentially a comfortable steak house. For under $15 we had an onion ring loaf (slightly greasy – but so are most onion rings), a Filet Mignon – cooked perfectly as ordered, but a little bland; and smoked ribs – an excellent version (cost included 2 large beers). Remarkable value. And we walked back to the hotel from there, after dark, without any hints of danger.

A traveling companion had to have a McDonald’s fix, so we visited with him – again a security guard (but no locked doors). But only a couple of blocks away was a restaurant (take-out) we didn’t try, which always had line-ups every time we passed it. Called El Leñador Burguer (corner of Geronimo Carron at Amazonas) the food looked excellent ($1 for a hamburger) and is half the price of McDonalds. Everything was cooked fresh.

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