Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quito's ZAZU zooms to the top in modern Ecuadorian cuisine (12-26-16)

Our first dinner in Quito was at the famous Relais & Chateaux restaurant called Zazu located in the new part of the city so it was about a 20-minute taxi right away which is a steal at $6. We entered into the huge restaurant with many different rooms and we were taken immediately to our table which was located next to a huge group of Americans from New York that we had just met at the hotel 30 minutes earlier. Unfortunately they generated way too much noise for the next several hours and the restaurant was generally noisy the entire time and the music behind all the noise didn't help.  We were given some menus in Spanish and one in English and some bread was put down with some butter and the plates that were very beautiful were whisked away but then nobody came to the table for quite some time and we had no clue what was going on.
They seem to be severely overtaxed and very limited with staff and everyone was running around like crazy as huge groups entered into the restaurant to be seated.
Ultimately our server arrived and things quieted down at least as far as the service was concerned.  We ordered our food and wine and settled down for what turned out to be a truly memorable meal.

I was kind of surprised that no amuse arrived as this is considered the most elegant restaurant in the entire country but that was not a problem is everything that followed was truly delicious. Our first wine was a Catena Zapata Chardonnay 2015 from Mendoza that arrived at the table virtually frozen and we had to warm it up and then we tasted the wonderful acidity and gooseberries. We also ordered a red: the Montes Alpha M 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and petit verdot blend from Santa Cruz Chile which had nice tannins, intense plum flavor and really a huge body and amazing legs.
 Samuel chose to order a la carte and started with the Wagyu beef tartar fillet with capers and blue cheese foam (really a softish medium local blue cheese). He loved the beef but he's not a fan of blue cheese and tried to get it as far away from the meet as possible. He opened up one of the small brioche rolls and a raw quail egg came out onto his meat exploding with flavor which he eventually decided was ok.
His main course was a shiitake crusted filet mignon with Parmesan quinoa cakes which he loved except he shoved aside each and every one of the mushrooms.
Will chose the five course tasting menu which started with a wonderful dish called Andean grains and vegetables consisting of those large lupin beans which are more like large corn kernels with hearts of palm, tiny crispy quinoa and a slightly spicy yellow pepper sauce with cilantro. As a reminder most of these dishes can be seen on my Facebook page. 
His next course was  octopus with corn puree, chimichurri and native potatoes which was a 4 out of 5 star dish and the only downside on his 5 course menu.
His third course we're suckling pig taquitos which she said were okay but a bit lukewarm; they were pork confit  with guacamole and gruyere cheese and were topped with a Chipotle aioli.
His main course with a seafood tamale made from prawn, squid, mussels, clams and a spicy seafood sauce with maize.
His dessert with simply called chocolate and had three different kinds of chocolates in different forms: ganache cuite 78%, babarois 40% and mousse 62%.
I have to say I think I fared much better with the seven course menu and should mention that it only costs $50 for the five-course menu and $70 for the seven-course menu.
 My first course was a Ceviche of black clam with lemon and a craft beer foam on top with a little teeny plantain fried on the side to clear your palate afterwards.  AWESOME.
Next came the same Andean grains and vegetable course which I was in heaven over and gave more than 5 stars.
My down course was the stone crab without a cutter green apple pesto and a crab salad with 6 pieces of caviar.
Cazuela was a huge single prawn with banana and peanut "salprieta" with maize and shrimp-plantain pot-au-feu, which was a homerun.
This was followed by a dish that most people probably would think is really disgusting, but I was very excited to try as it is considered a delicacy in the north of the Andes in Ecuador. The empanada was filled with guinea pig confit, maize and aji chicha reduction of corn.
Be sure to take a look at this amazingly presented dish on FB with a gorgeous crispy tortilla with the confit and the reduction on top that was simply fabulous and everyone at the table tasted it and agreed.
 My main course was a pork cheek with barley, potato llapingacho and jus with organic salad.
 The meat was gorgeous and crispy skinned, perfectly cooked and a 5star dish well-deserved.
 Dessert for both Samuel and me was an amazing presentation of Helado de Paila,  a traditional local ice cream made a table side here with blackberries and strawberries and of course liquid nitrogen to create the ice cream with hazelnut crumble and meringue.
There is a video of this on Facebook which you can't miss.
Chef Oscar Camacho came out to greet us and we were thrilled to tell him that almost everything was amazing and he welcomed our commentson the dishes that were not such big hits. Kudos to.our server Elvis even though we had some language difficulties it was a truly memorable experience.