Reprinted from: Cuenca High Life
By: Sumana Harrison , Publisher in Cuenca High Life
I have been thrilled to find several wonderful new restaurants in Cuenca since my return and there are certain things that stand out. Both the decor and service seem to have improved, as well as the quality and variety of dishes available. And, as always, I am struck by the freshness and flavor of what is served.
A minor complaint I have is with the bread that accompanies a meal in Cuenca, which is usually an airy sliced baguette. Which is not to say that some good bread is not available here and there (I’m told someone is making sourdough!), but as a rule great bread has not reached the mainstream.
La Pérgola is one of the impressive new restaurants in town. It is in a converted mansion with a lovely garden, outdoor fireplace (and pérgola). It touts itself as café, restaurant and lounge, but there is also a well-stocked small bar and outdoor seating for those wonderful sunny days in Cuenca. The focus though is on the restaurant, which has the capacity for 90 people and has been broken up into different spaces for more intimacy.
I thought the food was outstanding. And here I have to digress and remind myself that I am in Ecuador and not New York. Someone could come here from, say, Rome and not be impressed. So the basis for me is always in service to where I am in the so-called “third world.” In my book, Pérgola makes the grade.
There are upscale items on the menu, under sandwiches, like steak (lomo fino), sauteed with mushrooms, onions and a special sauce, served with fries for $7, as well as foccacio for $4.88. Under Piqueos (which are snacks, hors d’oevres or starters), you’ll find tablitas, which are for four people, cost $14-18, and are either assorted cheeses and cold cuts, meats or seafood.
Grilled tuna with a sesame crust is $14 and grilled salmon with a sweet onion sauce is $13. Shrimp, as well as pastas are $8-10. There are a couple of interesting chicken dishes, like chicken breast stuffed with jamon serrano (prosciutto) in a mora sauce, or grilled with a basil sauce. There are several lomo fino dishes, and the one that struck me came with portobello mushrooms and a blue cheese sauce for $12. Yum! The quality of the meat was excellent.
La Pérgola specialties are somewhat locally oriented: Mixed Grill with mote pillo (like hominy), llapingachos (potato pancakes) and pickled onions, $12, and seco de chivo, also $12. Technically, “chivo” is goat, but is easily (and often) interchangeable with cordero (lamb). As the meat is stewed in a tomato based sauce, it is hard to tell the difference.
The owners of Pérgola, by the way, also operate Dos Choreras in the Cajas, which is a restaurant, hosteria and trout farm and, from what I hear, has the best trout in town.
The lunch time service was excellent. Happily, La Pérgola is open seven days, noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6:00 p.m. Sunday.