Monday, June 8, 2015

It's Urko

We are in Quito, Ecuador, and we are hungry.  

We want Andean food.  Ecuadorian, Peruvian, whatever.

Mr. C is on it.  He's an expert at ferreting out great little spots, 
and so we hail a cab and head to Urko Restaurant.

We have read the Trip Advisor reviews, so we already know that the menu @ Urko (listed as #2 of 627 restaurants in Quito) is not in English.  We are armed with the tiniest bit of Spanish to ask, "What's your best dish?" and then (no matter what the answer is) "Yes, bring us that!"

It turns out this is a hot little spot with a great vibe.  It has an open kitchen ~~ I always love watching them work.  You get to see all the food coming out of the kitchen, not just the few things you order for your table.  I would be inclined to sit the bar for a better view, but, as you can see, it's already full.

It turns out the staff speaks excellent English.  When we say we just want her suggestions, please bring us a few of their best dishes, she first asks what we like; when we say, we like everything, our waitress, Mikila, (Miki for short) is secretly ecstatic; and she's good to make recommendations, even to the point of telling us what is portion-sized for two;  then explains what's in the dishes she's recommending, what makes it typically Ecuadorian.

And she starts us off with their specialty ~~ huge bowl-shaped glasses of 
infused gin drinks.  I pick lavender-infused gin; 
Mr. C picks cilantro.  And it's delicious.

Our first appetizer is traditional ceviche;
here it's served with non-traditional passion fruit.  
It's heavenly.

Our second starter is smoked eel with mashed yucca, onion, and shaved veggies.  It's spectacular, and now we are so excited for the main dish.

While we are waiting, though, I grab my camera and head out for pictures of the kitchen and the restaurant.  As usual.  

What's not usual, though, is the reception I get from Sebastian, the young owner and chef.  When he senses my interest, he offers me a tour of the kitchen.  Of course I'm thrilled, and accept in a heartbeat.  That's just my style.

He shows me all the work stations in this small kitchen;

I'm fascinated at what I see here;

And he introduces me to the sou chefs, who he tells me are all much younger than him.  He's 28.  That means they are just babies. 

I loved watching her work.  
I'm inspired to take a class in plating when I get home.

I see things I know we do not do, or could not do, in the US.  I see a tub of vacuum packed meat in a plastic tub, weighted down with rocks to keep it properly submerged, with a combo heater / thermometer.  This is how they slow-cook their meats for hours.

I am introduced to the 300-year-old brick oven, the traditional Inca beehive, heated to heaven knows what degree, in which they sear off all those wonderfully tenderized meats that they've been braising.

He's both handsome and hearty;  and I think he looks pretty darn good for his age.

But now it's back to the table, our food is being served.  Our main dish is pork leg, which has been slow cooked for days (as I've seen), and is then finished off in that fabulous bee-hive oven.

And the accompanying potato dish (a requirement with every Andean meal) is super well-seasoned; the roasted potatoes are swimming in mashed yucca ~ sort of like potatoes in mashed potatoes.   Unusual, and very yummy.

There is an energy here, a vibrancy that comes from youth, from young people who are (still) so passionate about what they are doing, what they are creating.  

It comes from good basic ingredients, enhanced (not elevated -- I was corrected by Sebastian on this note) to another level.  Suffice it to say, we had a fabulous meal.  And when we travel onward to meet our Galapagos bunk-mates, we recommend it highly to those travelers who are still Quito-bound.  And some of them come to experience Urko.  I'm delighted.

Sebastian comes back out to our table at the conclusion of our meal, and graciously receives our gratitude for a completely wonderful evening of culinary delights, rich with cultural heritage.

We've called a cab, and he joins us as we wait outside.  What hotel are we going to, he wonders aloud; and when we tell him, he suggests that we meet the manager of our (small, 13 unit) hotel, who's been sitting next to us all evening, whom he's acquainted with.  In fact, I had taken a photo for their table when requested. It's fortuitous; this is who we will spend the next day with while we watch the protest taking place in the square below.

And he recommends, in passing, a wonderful restaurant in Lima, once he knows we are returning there, called Central'; somewhere in all his training (and it's extensive) he has experience with the chef at this Lima restaurant and; it's an OMG, you have to stay tuned for this experience.  They are rated as the number 15th restaurant in the world.  Yeah.  That's a big deal.

So this evening ends with new beginnings.  Unbenownst to us at this moment, we will spend the coming day with our hotel's GM, watching the protests culminate in San Francisco Square below our hotel's 4 floor terrace; and we will spend a lovely night in Lima, crashing one of the top restaurants in the entire world........and we will share these tips with other travelers who will do the same.

I don't care who you are, or where you are on the map ~

It's been a fabulous evening ~ in anyone's book!


  1. Such an interesting place it seems. The food looks very good and the preparation an art. I am anxious to read about the your next days adventure. So, like a well written book, I cant stop reading your blog. Thank you!

  2. Such an interesting place to visit it seems. The food looks good in the pictures.


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