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Archive for the ‘Uruguay’ Category

Sunset from the vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

Sunset from the vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

Alto de la Ballena, has a premium location in Uruguay. Not just is it a stone throw from the popular holiday town of Punta del Este, but the views from the winery are magnificent. As the cattle browses the pastures in search of the greenest grass, your graze is pleasantly distracted by a small lagoon with rolling hills accentuating the harmony of nature creating a breath-taking spectacle. Experiencing a sunset there with a glass of one of the winery’s delicious wines gets one nowhere far from a feeling as if cut-out from your imaginary of a paradise. Indeed, the paradise on Earth, stress-free, worry-free, and all the life negatives-free.

The winery’s name is almost surreal. Alto de la Ballena meaning “The highs of whales” received its name and picture on the label from its location at Sierra de la Ballena (the Whale Hills).

The owners Paula Pivel (winemaker) and Alvaro Lorenzo (her husband and director) bought almost 20 hectares of land in the Sierra de la Ballena in the year 2000. In late 2003 Paula left her stable job at a bank in Montevideo (capital of Uruguay) to devote her life to winemaking at Alto de la Ballena. Before that she studied as a winemaker at the National Wine School in Uruguay.

Vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

Vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

So far only eight hectares are planted with vines. The iron-rich soil of oxidized grey granite, schist and quartz is ideal for producing high quality wines. The first harvest was in 2005, four years after planting the first vines on the estate. Most of the property lies on a very rocky slop, unsuitable for vine plantation, yet visually attractive and popular between the local animals and colourful harmless lizards.

The vines

The vines

The vines planted and wines made are: Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and the lonely white Viognier. Sustainable winemaking is prominent in Uruguay and the winery embraces most of its aspects including underground ageing of the wines, thus “taking advantage of the topography and the location at the foothill.” because of this system a high amount of energy is being saved.

Tannat with Viognier blend

Tannat with Viognier blend

They make single varietal wines such as Syrah and Merlot, but also blends with Tannat. The Reserva of Tannat/Merlot/ Cabernet Franc being an exemplary achievement of balance and roundness. The fresh yet slightly jammy fruit is balanced by a touch of wood and rewarding with a lingering finish. More adventurous is the blend of a highly tannic red Tannat with Viognier, the white northern Rhone fragrant grape varietal. The problem with it is that the result proved to be highly vintage sensitive so the winemaker has to work hard each year to achieve the ideal balance. I have tried the 2009 vintage that was complex (floral touch of Viognier contrasting the big and powerful Tannat with a zing of fresh mint ) and interesting, yet not my favourite. The fruity, round and balanced Merlot with a masculine touch of cigar and tobacco and the velvety smooth Reserva 2008 red blend were my preferred choices.

Merlot from Alto de la Ballena

Merlot from Alto de la Ballena

The success came quite soon for such a new winery. With first wine released to the market in 2007 the wines I have tasted proved to be very well done. Striving for harmony and complexity is surely the right way to go for the friendly and ambitious female winemaker.

We tasted the wines together with an abundant cheese plate (from the local farms) Paula prepared for us in the tasting “room”, which is rather a wooden deck protected from the local strong winds by shields of see-through curtains, to maintain the spectacle of surrounding landscape. It was truly an unforgettable experience I would recommend to anyone visiting the area. If you get bored with lying on the beach, then set off for a small wine tasting trip and enjoy the beauty of the Uruguay’s countryside.

Sun setting over the vineyard

Sun setting over the vineyard

VISIT:

Address: Bodega y Viñedos Alto de la Ballena
Ruta 12 Km. 16.400
Sierra de la Ballena – Dept. Maldonado, Uruguay

Contact: Phone: 094 410 328/+(598) 94 410 328

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Finca Narbona

Finca means a farm and Finca Narbona today once again became a real farm or, to be precise, two farms. One is located in the Uruguay’s Carmelo and the other over 160 miles away near Punta del Este. I have visited them both, although I spent more time wine and cheese tasting in the original one near Carmelo. Both also have nicely decorated restaurants serving interesting, locally innovative food.

Winery as a national monument

The old building itself is a National Historical Monument housing a winery, a Chapel and a white-painted farm building. All of these edifices are part of the oldest building in Uruguay. The Estancia Narbona was founded in 1740 in the outskirts of Carmelo.

The property was recently bought by an Argentine businessman Eduardo ‘Pacha’ Canton and the wines under the Narbona label made there were launched with the 2012 vintage. To that date the Narbona label had been produced at Bodegas Irurtia.

New winery in the building process

New winery in the building process

Reviving the old winery

With a new ownership and high ambitions building a new winery was inevitable. The premises in the historical building are too small today to accommodate the needs of the increasingly demanding consumers looking for high quality wines. Barrels as well as other winemaking equipment take lots of space. The new winery is not being used for production yet, but it is scheduled to happen at any time soon.

Vintage car

Vintage car

The old winery is like a museum full of objects from its original owner and his descendants. The founder of the winery at Narbona was a Neapolitan Aragonese Narbonne who came to Uruguay from Italy and established his own finca in Carmelo in 1740. After a long time of decline, the premises were bought and revived recently by ‘Pacha’, who also owns the Four Seasons resort in Carmelo. An ideal marriage of a hotel and a farm. The guests coming from all corners of the world appreciate having such an attraction near to their resort. The Finca Narbona near Punta del Este also has a convenient location in proximity of a number of hotels including the luxurious brazilian-owned Fasano.

Old style scale

Old style scale

Wines and winemaking

The youthful female winemaker Valeria Chiola has plenty of experience from her studies in Italy as well as from her parents’ winery near Punta del Este. She is well-known in the wine circles of Uruguay.

The vines at the old property are new and were imported from France. These are mostly Tannat and Pinot Noir.There are planted also small quantities of Viognier and Gewürztraminer varieties and especially the Viognier seems to be highly promising as my tasting experience at Narbona proved.

Narbona vines

Narbona vines

The Pinot was also nicely made with bursts of red fruits on the palate. Recent hiring of the globally recognised and already legendary consultant Michel Rolland was probably costly, yet it seems to work well for the wines. Nevertheless, it is still Valeria who is in charge of winemaking.

The underground tasting room is located in the wine cellar and has an authentic and cosy ambiance. Sitting in the dark room surrounded by  huge hanging legs of ham and maturing round pieces of cheese really feels artisanal and real.

 tasting room

tasting room

Tannat Luz de Luna

Tannat Luz de Luna

Narbona is not the sole winery in Uruguay which is also a farm making its own cheese, ham, jams, pasta, grappa (a grape spirit originating in Italy) and anything else that a farm can grow and convert into a popular delicacy. Nevertheless, it is one of the best ones. Its new owners do an exquisite job. The local as well as international residents, that have been attracted by the Uruguay’s relative stability and safety, buy creamy fresh yoghurts, milk, provolone cheese, high-quality pasta and of course wine at this winery farm. The quality and authenticity are high above the supermarket products we modern consumers are accustomed to.

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Bodega Irurtia established in 1913

Bodega Irurtia established in 1913

Irurtia is one of the first wineries in Uruguay and the fourth generation of the Irurtia family, that is now in charge, is proud of it. Celebrating 100 years since the first vintage, 2013 is going to be a big year for the winery and perhaps it is also an ideal time for a merry visit. I had a speedy tour with María Noel Irurtia, who is wonderful. She was very friendly, casual, knew the wines very well and was eager to invite the winemaker to the tasting table with us. Great news for the non-Spanish speaking crowd is that her English is pretty good.

Location

Located in the Carmelo area in Uruguay, the winery is best reachable either by a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia and then by car or from Montevideo straight by car. Although it is simpler, the later trip is a bit longer as the capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo, is further from Carmelo.

Centenary history

While in Europe the First World War was rumbling, in Uruguay wine was happily being harvested. The hundred-years-long history of the Bodega Familia Irurtia shows how remote the country is and therefore detached from the world’s skirmishes. Good for the wines. One rarely finds wines from the two World Wars’ vintages today.

1930s wine harvest machine

1930s wine harvest machine

The founder Don Lorenzo Irurtia came to Uruguay from the Basque region in Spain in the  late 19th century.Together with other immigrants he pioneered planting of the French Tannat grape, that still today thrives in the south-western France (particularly in Madiran). The person credited with brining the grape to the country was Don Lorenzo’s fellow citizen Pascual Harriague after whom was the Tannat locally named. It is said today that Tannat in Uruguay today is more similar to that one long time ago popular in France, where now Tannat stays in the shade of the Cabernets, Merlots, Chardonnays, Syrah and a much longer tail of preferred varietals.

Don Lorenzo Irurtia and his wife

Don Lorenzo Irurtia and his wife

Modern wines

Nonetheless, it was not until the 1970s, that Uruguay produced fine wines. María Noel Irurtia admitted saying: “We still have vines cultivated by my great grand father Lorenzo Irurtia, then more than 100 years old. This plants produced grapes and wine, but this is not for wine because of regulations, this are not recognised varietals for wine production.”

She further said: “Even our older European vines, between them Cabernet Sauvignon, my father imported in the early `70.” Still having vines over 40-years-old yields high quality wines as Ms Irurtia confirms: “This is an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon we use in our better blends of fine wine.”
Dusty 1985 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon

Dusty 1985 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon

Today the family employs modern winemaking techniques and quality standards to their wines so they can be sold far abroad particularly to Canada and as far as to Hong Kong (the Bodega participated in the Vinexpo Hong Kong last May 2012).

The sleek and modern Km.0 (Kilometro zero) range of wines confirms that the wines from Irurtia are worth a try. Notably, I was intrigued by the beauty of the Viognier, that one would not expect in the country known mostly for its fruity yet bold highly tannic Tannats.

Awards

María Noel Irurtia said: “The international prize we are really proud is our first prize, in Sofia- Bulgary in 1966. My father received the “Ordre du mérit Agricole” from the France Ministere De Affaires Agricoles.”
It is not the only the Tannat or the multiple awards reaping old-vines Cabernet Sauvignon that the family prizes the most. Ms Irurtia confessed to me: “Our most prized wine is the Botrytis Excellence Late Harvest 2002 which obtained many Gold and Great Gold Medals and our Reserva del Virrey Tannat 2002.”

Irurtia Km 0 wine rangeI tried both of these highly awarded wines, and although not in the 2002 vintage, I was impressed especially by the Botrytis Excellence. This sweet honeyed grape nectar was so luscious with good acidity necessary to make this style of wine excellent. The winery indeed achieved excellence with its Botrytis Excellence.

Reservation by mail at turismo@irurtia.com.uy – Visits everyday at 11AM & 3PM.

The address and location are specified on the Bodega’s website.

 

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Cuisine: Italian

Visit: December 2012

Price: Very expensive (Fasano has been for years one of the most popular high-end restaurants in Brazil and still is the No 1 choice for the power-luch gatherings).

Fasano Sao Paulo

Fasano Sao Paulo

Open since 1982 the Fasano restaurant in Sao Paulo became the cult as a dining establishment for gastronomy hunters. Long before then (Vittorio Fasano immigrated to Brazil from Milano in 1902 and opened the soon-to-be-famous “Brasserie Paulista”in Sao Paulo’s historic part of the city) the Fasano group had been already strongly established in the Brazil’s restaurant business. Recently it has further expanded its entourage of restaurants beyond the Italian food tag and still it keeps a strong position in the restaurants as well as hotels scene in South America. I have dined so far at three locations: the Rio’s Fasano al Mare – offering Mediteranean cuisine with an emphasis on seafood (the current chef came from the three-star Michelin Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence); the Sao Paulo’s original Fasano – traditional regional Italian cuisine (interpreted by the chef Luca Gozzani); and the Fasano las Piedras in Punta del Este – is supposed to serve the same style of food as the previous one, but so far it seems to struggle.

Fasano las Piedras Punta del Este

Fasano las Piedras Punta del Este

Atmosphere: Elegant, nostalgic New York-style Italian and quite formal for its business-crowd core in Sao Paulo. In Rio the modern and fresh snow-white design by Philippe Starck created one of the coolest scenes in the Rio’s trendy Ipanema beach area. In Punta del Este (Uruguay) it is very different – located on a rocky hill on the hotel’s property it is romantic, with beautiful rustic countryside and Maldonado river views and also family friendly. The restaurant is located in all three cases in the Fasano hotel. The later in Uruguay is quite new so it needs fine-tuning its service a bit. The bar area in Sao Paulo with live piano music is a great spot to watch the rich and famous relishing a cocktail or two. In Sao Paulo the dress code is much more uptight than in Punta del Este or fashionable and cool Rio. Smart casual attire will do the job in the Sao Paulo location while trendy in Rio and almost anything casual (jeans, etc.) in Uruguay is fine.

Sunset from Fasano las Piedras

Sunset from Fasano las Piedras

Food: Looks authentic, but taste was disappointing on two occasions we dined there (once in Sao Paulo and once in Punta del Este at Fasano hotel). The Italian thin crackers and bread with olive oil were perhaps the best things to eat at the Sao Paulo as well as Punta del Este locations. On the other hand the Fasano al Mare in Rio was very good and tasty.

Scallops

Scallops

The Scallops at Fasano in Sao Paulo were dry, not juicy and it seemed that the chef was trying to artificially add some flavour by adding more olive oil and basil. It was not enough to fix this dish. The Tuna carpaccio I ordered later as a hopeful fixer of my taste was flavourless and pink like a nail polish. The seasonal vegetable soup for my main course was too rich and creamy with too much oil and boring taste. In order to compare in Punta del Este I tried the Tuna tartare that was huge for an appetiser portion and similarly to my experience in it Sao Paulo’s sister restaurant it was boring, lacking taste. Similar were the overcooked (disaster for any restaurant that calls itself Italian) ravioli we had later. The only ok dish was the black-ink squids risotto, that looked more like a home-cooked dish rather than a high-end restaurant where you pay a lot for a plate of this sticky and soupy risotto.

Tuna carpaccio

Tuna carpaccio

At least the food at the Fasano al Mare in Rio was very good. The seafood was fresh with an accent on quality. The octopus was cooked to be tender and meaty and the fish was delicate and seasoned just right. Not too oily or struggling to please as in the other Fasanos’ locations.

The Fasano group has opened many new dining outlets throughout Brazil so perhaps the focus us now on them and they are worth trying. For the high price tag and excellent dining options in Sao Paulo as well as around Punta del Este I would rather go somewhere else. The Rio’s restaurant is worth trying and also a great hangout for the fashionistas.

Drinks: In the Punta del Este’s restaurant the wine was the best part of the dinner since they had one of my favourite Argentine wines from the Mendel winery in Mendoza. This wine pairs very well with meat but also with lighter dishes such as the Tuna tartare that we had – it actually made the tartare palatable. Mendel Unus is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. It is quite a concentrated wine exhibiting black cherry and plum fruit, elegance and balance. Barrel ageing leaves aromas of leather, toast and vanilla and overall complexity finished with a long aftertaste.

Mendel Unus

Mendel Unus

In Sao Paulo the wine list consists mostly from Italian and French labels. The selection of half-bottles is quite wide and attractive. The sommelier has not done a great job in terms of advising us the right “elegant and less powerful” wine we requested. The Barbaresco was exactly that kind of strong wine that we did not want, so we ordered another half-bottle of Angelo Gaja’s Sito Moresco that was much more smooth. This legendary producer from Piedmonte creates new style of more elegant Italian wines although usually with a very high price tag.

Italian wine line-up

Italian wine line-up

Opening hours:

Fasano São Paulo: Dinner: Mon – Sat: 7:30pm to 1am; It was open for Lunch when I was there although the Fasano website doe not include lunch in its opening hours.

Fasano al Mare in Rio
Mon – fri: 6:30 – 10:30am, 12 – 3:30pm, 7pm – 1am
Sat & Sun: 6:30 – 11am, 12:30pm – midnight

Fasano Punta del Este

Opened only on weekends outside the main season. From mid-December till April opened for dinner from 7:30pm.

The modern Brazilian architecture at Fasano in Punta del Este

The modern Brazilian architecture at Fasano in Punta del Este

Addresses:

Hotel Fasano São Paulo

Rua Vittorio Fasano, 88, São Paulo, SP 01414-020, Brazil.

Restaurante Fasano al Mare
Av. Vieira Souto, 80; Ipanema; Rio De Janeiro, RJ 22420-000; Brazil.

Restaurante Fasano Punta del Este
Cno. C. Egusquiza y Paso del Barranco; La Barra; Punta del Este, Maldonado 20400, Uruguay.

Contact:

Tel: +(55) 11 3062 4000; Email: restaurante@fasano.com.br;

Tel: +(59) 8 42 670 000; Fax: +598 42 670 707; Email: puntadeleste@fasano.com.br;

Tel: +(55 )21 3202 4000; E: fasanoalmare@fasano.com.br.

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Cuisine: Uruguayan

Visit: December 2012

Price: High (at a five-star hotel it cannot be cheap, but it is not as expensive as at the Four Seasons in Paris or London although it is much more rustic rather than gastronomic).

Pura restaurant

Pura restaurant

Atmosphere: Nostalgic, rustic, hunting lodge design. It is all wood, black and white old pictures, animal trophies and a giant grill dominating the back of the restaurant that remind you that you dine in the midst of wildness. The natural setting adds lots of charm as you can listen to the night creatures humming in the forest surrounding the hotel. Dress code for day is resort casual and for evening smart casual. Families are welcome and depending on the season there can be lots of kids.

Food: Seasonal, international cuisine influenced starters, traditional BBQ. Dishes are being cooked either in the wood-burning clay oven or in the indoor barbecue pit, where the traditional Uruguayan asado is being made. The food is tasty rather than fancy and that is what I appreciate at this restaurant the most. The ingredients were of a great quality so I would not mark it down for the slightly amateurish or perhaps down-to-earth presentation (it made my home-cooking arrangements on the plate look quite competitive).

Melted brie salad

Melted brie salad

The right balance of healthy and tasty ingredients is perhaps the best combination one can wish for a meal to have. The Melted brie salad on a large crostini with a generous portion of greens, marinated tomatoes and artichokes can fit this benefits-offering description. The Melted brie salad supplies you with vitamins, minerals and calcium for your bones while it is still tasting very good (a generous portion of great olive oil brings the salad a level up as well as it adds healthy monounsaturated fats good for your heart as well as Vitamin E).

A more filling and indulgent for some of you might be the Creamy soup with tender scallops. I loved this soup based on pumpkin, olive oil, scallops and some spices. There was a tiny amount of cream but it was not like the many of the French cream soups that are super-heavy due to the high amount of cream in them. The scallops melted in my mouth like a lollypop, they were so smooth yet rich given to the process of pan frying them. The only drawback was perhaps too much oil in the soup, but it is possible that the chef simply wanted you to have enough of the healthy olive oil (to balance the upcoming harm to your heart off) before indulging in a chunk of meat in your main course.

Creamy soup with scallops

Creamy soup with scallops

From the main courses, unless you are a vegetarian, you should go for the asado (Latin American word for BBQ). You can choose from a wide variety of meats. Go for the beef, lamb or the pork – all from Uruguay. The grass-fed animals have tender – no stressed meat and usually are very juicy even when cooked ‘well-done’. The pork was served on a mountain of super-thin sliced fries and garnished with herbs and oil. I am not a big pork eater (unless it is blood in the sausage – [perhaps it sounds even more weird for some of you) but my fiancé who is an avid food critic (better than me but he does not write about it, prefers the easier way – the talking) was overly satisfied and got very excited about meat from Uruguay.

Asado: south American BBQ

Asado: south American BBQ

Drinks: The wine list os good, but not good enough for a Four Seasons property. There is a good choice of local and Argentinian wines though so follow the advice of the wine waiter and you will get the right wine for your food. Do not expect too much knowledge though, we got all the information about the wine ordered when he was reading the informative back label – what a smart thing the wineries in usually Uruguay do! I have to give him a credit for selecting a wine that we enjoyed very much. The El Preciado from Bodegas Castillo Viejo that was labeled something like a wine from Burgundy (1er -Cru??) and Rioja (Gran Reserva) at the same time was full-bodied, fruity and simply enjoyable. Do not expect a super complex blend of Burgundy with Gran Reserva Rioja though. Although it was a complex blend of Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon partially aged for 15 months in a mix of new French and American oak – one cannot attempt to “make it” more complex – the soil and overall terroir did not allow for a very complex wine. It was well balanced and tasty though.

El Preciado red wine

El Preciado red wine

Opening hours: Daily for lunch: 11:30 am – 7:00 pm; Dinner: 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm.

Address: Four Seasons Resort Carmelo Uruguay, Ruta 21, km 262, Carmelo, Dpto. de Colonia, Uruguay

Contact: Tel.+598 (4542) 9000

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Cuisine: International

Visit: December 2012

Price: Medium (Convenient location in the town centre that does not just “milk” tourists but serves good food with amiable service).

Food: At Isidora they want to please you without any molecular or gastronomic fuss. The food is genuine and tasty which is exactly the opposite of its neighboring restaurant (no naming here) where we were sent by our hotel (Fasano) concierge first. Either the concierge does not understand good food or the owner must be his friend. Not only we did not get our window table we requested (so we could enjoy the views of the port), but the food looked very pretentious and tasted worse than a fake fruit juice (with Exxx aromas instead of the real fruit). We peeked into Isidora and were immediately greeted by a friendly waiter who seated us to a table of our liking – that is what I call attentive and pleasant service! The choice is wide and vegetarians will find some good options to cater their dietary requirements.

Fried cheese with chutney

Fried cheese with chutney

You can start with a hearty plate such as the Fried cheese served with a small green salad and sweet chutney. The Italian style cheese from a local farm was delicious, tender and gooey enough so it was very amusing to watch the happy face of my fiancée wrapped in sticky strings of cheese. I had a taste and must confirm it was like my favorite childhood dish (and of many Czech kids and still of some adults) my mum was harassed by me and my younger sister to fry for us every Saturday as it was the day we could choose the items of our lunch (Sundays we were tortured with a rabbit that to our father’s disdain me and my sister despised). After all our parents were lucky to have two girls who prefer a cheap fried cheese to quite pricy meat, at that time they did not appreciate it enough and Sundays had to be meat-driven.

The Panfried squids with spices and vegetables were also highly palatable. Not too chewy, but rather cooked just enough to be enjoyably munched by our youthful strong teeth (I rather enjoy them now as I am not sure how I would manage them having my grandmother’s teeth – poor lady she can manage a squid consomme at best). A lovely dish with a refreshing and fruity Albariño from a popular Uruguayan producer Bouza.

Pan fried local fish

Pan fried local fish

The products of the sea are well-cooked at Isidora. Another great choice from the main courses was on the olive oil Pan fried local fish served with fresh herbs and grilled vegetables. It is a healthy choice, although the fish is big so fills one up noticeably. The white fish was similar to Seabas or Seabream, it had more soft texture, was not flaky, but also had quite a lot of bones. The later took so much of my effort that I felt like I have worked the calories from the fish out leaving some space for something sweet. It might have been also my chocolate addiction that widened my pupils when I was peaking at the deserts offer. Dark Chocolate Volcano is like a spell for me, I don’t care if they serve it with an ok ice cream or fresh cream, unless there is a rich cup-shaped cocoa cake exploding with liquid dark chocolate once your spoon dives into it. I should write a poem about this new passion of mine mentioning the best volcanoes I have relished so far (I will post it once my creative fluids overflow with chocolate). Nevertheless, at Isidora the chocolate sweet heaven was perfect and I would recommend it to any choco-obsessed maniac like me. My fiancée got the ice cream at least (How nice I am to share my dessert with my other half 😉 Not sure though if my favorite ice cream from Sicily or French Barbarac *).

Dark chocolate volcano

Dark chocolate volcano

Atmosphere: Casual, friendly, comfortable and red all around you. Red walls and chairs add a jolly and festive feel to this spacious restaurant. Young, old, families and couples – anyone dines at Isidora ( just oligarchs are rare here as it perhaps is not enough fancy place for them). You can wear jeans and t-shirt and you will be fine. Enjoying the food and friendly service with wine seems to be the main mission of this restaurant.

Bouza white Albariño wine from Uruguay

Bouza white Albariño wine from Uruguay

Drinks: The wine list is interesting for these of you eager to explore local wines. We went for a bottle of well-priced Albariño 2010 from Bouza, one of the most popular and reliable producers ow wine from Uruguay. It was quite low in alcohol, fruity, aromatic and ideal with seafood, fish as well as on its own as a cocktail. If you rather prefer something proven then go for a bottle of white or red Malbec from Argentina. The later is great with meat and accomplishes the Chocolate Volcano perfectly. The prices at Isidora are very reasonable so do not hesitate to order any wine your palate desires as the mark-up is not bad.

*

Opening hours: Daily from 11am. Open even off-the-season.

Address: Harbours Rambla & 21 st. street, Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Contact: Tel: + (598) 42 44 96 46; email: info@isidora.com.uy

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La Huella beach view

La Huella beach view

Cuisine: Argentine and Peruvian.

Visit: December 2012

Price: Medium to high (La Huella is perhaps the most popular dining spot in the entire Punte del Este so it can charge what it wants, although it is not over the top and the food as well as the service end up being a great value for money).

Bar at La Huella

Bar at La Huella

Ambiance: Bohemian, rustic and trendy. La Huella is one of the most desirable restaurants in the area of Punta del Este and for that it attracts anyone trendy – from international celebrities to great vibe and food seeking tourists. La Huella is located right on the beach so I would not recommend ladies to wear super-thin heels either for the comfort reasons as well as looking out-of-the-place. Imagine St Tropez 20-30 years ago, sandy dunes and Le Club 55 – the hotspot of the rich and famous for decades and you will get La Huella. Its chill-out ambiance, rustic wooden bar with chess-pieces peaking over your head, open kitchen and grill back room and large terrace facing the beach will transfer even the sturdiest workaholic into the realm of nostalgic dreams. Beach clothes and short during lunch are fine – long pants and mosquito spray in the evening if you sit outside.

Sandy entrance to La Huella

Sandy entrance to La Huella

Food: Fresh, authentic and tasty. I have eaten at La Huella twice. After three out of three people, who know the area well, recommended me eating here, plus the answer to my question “Where would you eat around Punta del Este on your birthday?” being “La Huella”, I knew this place must be outstanding. Perhaps I look biased, (after all the bottles of wines I consumed there it is entirely possible as I tend to like everything after three glasses of this god-blessed liquid), but I am sure about one thing: You must eat there at least once when in the area. The food is a mix of Peruvian, Argentine and Uruguayan cuisines. Fresh and mostly local ingredients are used in preparation and the cooks try to make the plates look cool.

Potato causa

Potato causa

From the peruvian fare I loved the White fish ceviche s well as the Potato causa filled like lasagne with a creamy layer of salmon, mayonnaise and onions. Both were authentic, no fuss and simply delicious.

White fish ceviche

White fish ceviche

Another great starter is the Warm goat cheese salad. Bitter and limey roquette with crisp tomato balance the milky and fatty cheese with a fire burned coating served on a crunchy bread bun.  The only disappointment was the squid appetizer with beetroot sauce, the sauce was the problem as it did not match the squids at all – too much creativity can kill a dish often and my previous experience at another restaurant in Uruguay confirmed that they generally need to figure out beetroot quite a bit.

Warm goat cheese salad

Warm goat cheese salad

La Huella can do pizza very well! If you continue in a starter marathon then get the Goat cheese pizzetta on a thin crisp oval dough as it is not just a great companion to wine but also a perfect crispy snack to share. They get seasonal seafood so if they got the White clams that I have ordered try them as they are really fresh, juicy and palate pleasing. Perfect with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc!

Cheese pizetta

Cheese pizetta

Seafood as well as meat dishes are the restaurant’s strengths. From the main courses I can recommend any steak as the meat is local, without hormones, just grass-fed, wild-nature raised and above all super tasty. The wood-fired grill throws a magic spell of yumminess on each meat that passes its heating throat. The grilled fish is also good, but to my taste the meat is better. After all living in Mediterranean can turn anyone in a fierce fish critic especially if you have the privilege of eating at my friend’s restaurant in Cap d’Antibes.

Literary, the cherry on the cake are the desserts. I might not look like that but I had two desserts on my own here – the Chocolate Volcano is an absolute indulgent blast that keeps your energy fired up until early hours and I had it replayed twice. The cacao-based cake hides a liquid secret. As your spoon cuts through the cake a stream of dark chocolate runs out

Drinks: The bar area invites for a cocktail before or after your meal. The selection of wines from South America is good and the wine waiter is willing to advise you. We went purely Uruguayan with a green and fresh tasting Sauvignon Blanc 1oo Años and later a red blend of Tempranillo with the local tannic Tannat from Bouza, one of the most famous producers in the country. The Sauvignon Blanc was perfect for a light lunch drinking, the red blend was perhaps too rich and heavy, but drinkable with the steak and it inspired me to order the Chocolate Volcano twice!

100 Anos white wine from Uruguay

100 Anos white wine from Uruguay

Bouza red blend of Tempranillo and Tannat from Uruguay

Bouza red blend of Tempranillo and Tannat from Uruguay

Opening season: Out of season only for lunch, from mid-December till April also for dinner. Call and reserve a table ahead.

Address: Playa Brava, José Ignacio, Uruguay.

Contact: Tel. +(59) 8 4867 5432

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