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If you ask a local to name the best restaurant in almost any big city, you’re liable to get a lot of different answers. In Quito, however, the one often topping the list has been Nuema, run by chef Alejandro Chamorro. You won’t find many people in Ecuador’s kitchens with the kind of pedigree he has: he worked at Noma in Copenhagen, one of the top-rated restaurants in the world. Alejandro also worked with the renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio at the Astrid y Gaston Restaurant in Lima. Then partner chef (and wife) Piedad Salazar is a talented pastry chef who handles most of the sweet side of the menu.
Nuema now has a new location in the Illa Experience Hotel in Quito, one we haven’t gotten a correspondent into yet but we will link to the review from here after we do. This highly anticipated luxury hotel is a welcome addition to the San Marcos neighborhood of the historic center. Since many of Quito’s best restaurants are in the newer business district of the city, having a Nuema location here is going to make a lot of visiting foodies happy.
This restaurant is not just noteworthy for its fine food, however. It represents a holistic “back to our roots” approach to Ecuadorian food. The country’s cuisine isn’t as well-known as Peru’s, but it has the same culinary roots of Andes Mountains, thick jungle, and the sea. Green Plantain is the base of almost every local dish, peanut is a seasoning in many dishes, and Amazon products such as paiche (Amazon fish) or garabato yuyo (bud of a fern) come into play on the menu. Nearly all ingredients are from Ecuador and a committed farm-to-table program is in place for land items. For seafood, they work only with small-scale, environmentally responsible fisherman.
The local emphasis is not just what’s on the plates though: it’s also part of the plates themselves. All the crockery and cutlery was designed only for Nuema by local artisans from the coastal area of Ecuador.
Nuema cuisine uses a “rule of three” for its dishes. It means that every dish only has 3 flavors + 3 ingredients + 3 textures. (Now there’s a good challenge for the next Top Chef season!) I can’t tell you what will be on the menu when you get there though because that’s based on what’s fresh and available. Thankfully this country is on the equator, so it has a wide range of ingredients available all year. Ecuador can grow tropical fruit and berries that require cool temperatures. They’ve got coffee, cacao, potatoes, grains, and things you have probably never tasted, like the tree tomato.