Zazu is the most renowned of the restaurants with Peruvian chefs to have opened in Quito, Ecuador in the past three years. Since opening in 2007, the restaurant has already been named one of Quito’s three best restaurants by LAN airlines and was awarded a Five Star Diamond Award by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. In 2009, Zazu won a coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its impressive wine cellar, which is shaped in a planetarium like cylinder that might be the best looking, at from the inside, cellar I’ve seen anywhere.
It’s safe to say I had high hopes for this restaurant and for the most part it succeeded. I’ll get my one qualm out of the way first. I asked to be surprised by the chef in regards to my cocktail. I told him I’m into Pisco and mixology. He first suggested a Vodka Martini. I said more exotic and I was brought a Mojito. I’ve learned since that the cocktail scene in Quito isn’t anywhere near that of Lima, Bogóta, or Buenos Aires and that pisco, even at a Peruvian restaurant, is not common.
That aside, the food, the menu, the setting, the service is superb. The appetizers are not extremely exotic, yet mildly creative and well executed. Think Pisco Glazed Shrimp with yucca fries, coconut mussels, Causa Peruano, and Pulpo a la Parilla (grilled octopus). There’s more than a dozen ceviches and tiraditos (the majority being the latter). If you are opting for one of these, try something with Tuna Roja (red tuna), a tuna native to Ecuador that is full of flavor and takes well to citrus.
For my main course I was between two dishes, so the chef was willing to split them in half and serve me both like a mini-tasting menu. First came the Ají Panca crusted Red Tuna and Coconut Rice. The tuna – could have been spicier – was a thick cut served on a banana leaf. The rice was creamy and mildly sweet. The Langostinos Zazu came fried like tempura and slathered in a slightly tangy aioli. The Latin couscous and mango salad was skipable. Other entrees sound equally as appealing: Plantain Crusted Corvina (sea bass), Swordfish “Pancotto”, Mero a la Macho, Lomo Criollo (herb marinated beef fillet, yucca Gruyère fritters, and ají amarillo chimichurri), and Veal Ossobuco with Pumpkin Risotto.
The playful desserts are a highlight. Their Chocolate Trio is a bit heavy for my taste, but the smaller Bailye’s Brownie and Vanilla Panna cotta with Berry and Port Wine Coulis are a nice place to stop.
Mariano Aguilera 331 & La Pradera
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.