Will I See You Again, Charco? A Restaurant I Will Return To In Uruguay

Warm, freshly baked rolls and olives to start the meal.
Warm, freshly baked rolls and olives to start the meal.

“How is the food?” “Delicious, but it makes me sad.” “Why?” “Because I can only eat this.” “But, we have more food in the kitchen.” “But I have only this one night.”

Smoked salmon, calamari with tartar sauce, and panko crusted shrimp with mango salsa.
Smoked salmon, calamari with tartar sauce, and panko crusted shrimp with mango salsa.

This was the conversation I had with my young waiter who looked like he had stepped out of a commercial for polo and Polo.

I had wandered around Colonia for a few hours when I heard the lap of waves at the end of a cobblestone street. Charco restaurant is down at sea level, perhaps even a bit below. They have a counter along the windows so that one can sit facing the waves while eating.

The shrimp with mango salsa.
The shrimp with mango salsa.

I managed to get a table because I wanted to eat dinner at 5 p.m. Apparently later that evening, all the (seven) tables were reserved. Charco is the “house” restaurant of a hotel. The hotel only has seven rooms (or something like that) and next time I visit Colonia, I might try to stay there.

A seat with a view.
A place setting with a view.

My seafood platter was good. I loved the fresh tart pomelo juice (I like my juice fresh and I’ve tried quite a few!).

Fresh pomelo juice in a curvacious glass.
Fresh pomelo juice in a curvacious glass.

But, what I really impressed me was the freshly baked mini breads (and the olives) which came out as an appetizer. The bread had been baked like Italian pizza with corn meal on the bottom. This helps to keep the bread from sticking to the oven but it also adds a crunchy sweetness to the rolls. Warm, buttery, and sweetly corny. All six for me!

The hotel as seen from the street.
The hotel as seen from the street.

When I chatted with the waiter, who spoke beautiful English, I asked him if he was from Colonia. He was. I asked if he had seen some of the world. He had. I asked if he thought that Colonia was the best town in the world. That was why he came back.

A mysterious door at the end of a street. Don't resist!
A mysterious door at the end of a street. Don’t resist!

Colonia, Uruguay – A Perfect Little Town

Colonia has classic cars for those who like to spot.
Colonia has classic cars for those who like to spot.

The United Nations got there first. It’s a World Heritage site. But, Colonia, unlike, say Cartagena, may not seem so obviously a world heritage site. It is quiet in Colonia. Even sleepy. The contrast is great if you take the Buquebus ferry from the loud metropolis of Buenos Aires.

It's quiet here.
It’s quiet here.

When you get off the ferry (which takes about an hour), it’s a twenty minute or so walk (depending on how much luggage you are carrying) to the old center of the town of Colonia. The international passport control for leaving Argentina and entering Uruguay are both done in Buenos Aires so it’s easy to just walk off the ferry and be on your way. Likewise, when you leave Colonia, the passport control to depart Uruguay and enter Argentina is literally at the same window. The two officials stand one foot from each other. It’s a little surreal in that bureaucratic way.

Glimpses into a real life?
Glimpses into a real life?

I really liked Colonia. A lot. I liked how civil and nice everyone and everything seemed to be. I understand that many folks from Buenos Aires take a day trip to Colonia when they need a really quiet day. I stayed overnight and I’m glad I did. I wandered around enjoying the fort, watching the local’s try to catch fish, the hand made ice cream, the seafood, and all that. But, mostly I enjoyed walking down cobble stone streets. There were so many and each one had a secret wine tavern or hidden artist’s studio or some other treasure for the photographically inclined.

I found this by wandering around but I'm sure it's in Lonely Planet.
I found this by wandering around but I’m sure it’s in Lonely Planet.

An example of how unusual (to me) Colonia felt to me was what happened when I tried to cross the street. I was on my way to find the post office and I was following verbal directions so I stopped at an intersection. I got distracted by a kiosk in a park. Then I noticed something very odd. The few soft sounds of traffic had died down. I looked around at the intersection. All, wait, ALL, the cars and bikes had stopped. Waiting for me, the pedestrian, to make my move. Wow. I was flabbergasted. I did cross the street so that I didn’t cause a rush hour.

Okay, maybe you did buy that car new...
Okay, maybe you did buy that car new…

Another reason to visit Colonia is for the restaurant down by the sea wall where the waves lap up like silver applause (I’ll have to blog about it another time once I’ve dug up the card).

The river like a sea of silver.
The river like a sea of silver.

Next time I’ll rent a golf cart so I can explore more of the city. And feel the wind in my hair.

Looks fun!
Looks fun!

Plus, I want to stay at the lemon grower’s bed and breakfast. Also, I need to go back to that restaurant. AHA! I remember now. It was called Charco. I had one of the saddest eating experiences there. But more about that some other time.

Artsy house sign.
Artsy house sign.

Secret Restaurants and Speakeasies in Buenos Aires

Eat, drink, and be merry on four continents.
Eat, drink, and be merry on four continents.

There’s a well known secret about Buenos Aires. Actually, there are more, but here are two gastronomic ones.

One is that there are “secret” restaurants to go to (sort of like the inadvertent secrets in Dhaka). The concept is a fixed menu in someone’s home and you pay a suggested amount. It’s all sort of furtive and illicit, therefore enticing. The concept is the same as in Washington, DC and other cites.

Nola, come on in.
Nola, come on in.

 

In BA (that’s what the they call Buenos Aires), I went to a former secret restaurant. Instead of being located behind the closed door at the back of a garage, it’s now open to the street. Called Nola, it was started by a Louisiana expat, and it serves some good ol’ food. It was the best fried chicken in the city. The fried chicken has crispy batter. The sweetbreads with red pickled onions makes a savory bowl of crunchy goodness. The cornbread was more like a bread pudding and the tea, it was sweet. Best go early for BA, around eight, so that you don’t have to stand while eating your chicken. As the place filled up, the patrons spilled out onto the sidewalk through the open front. The restaurant looked like a former garage. They have a few desserts as well, including a cupcake sized blueberry pie. While the prices were not cheap, Nola was as sweet as its pie.

Blueberry pie, single portion.
Blueberry pie, single portion.

The second secret in BA is the “speakeasy,” A speakeasy refers to a bar that is hidden, just like back during Prohibition in the U.S. In current-day BA, these are bars with a fake entrance. The one that I went to had an innocent looking bakery as its facade. We went in and walked to the back “brick” wall. I imagining a secret knock or handshake would be required. But, we simply told the hostess that we wanted to go “to the back” and she let us through. Once through the looking glass, we entered a world of Victorian England, and I half hoped to see Johnny Depp swish or sway past wearing a cape. Alas, other than the disproportionate number of tall blondes, the only swaying I saw was a short gold lamĂ© skirt that glittered and glistened as its owner made forays to the powder room.

A cocktail for 10 bucks.
A cocktail for 10 bucks.

Perhaps next time, I’ll blog about the 48-hour eating tour of BA to match my 48-hour food tour of Lima.

Of Destinos and Destinations

Famous street in the La Boca harbor area of Buenos Aires.
Famous street in the La Boca harbor area of Buenos Aires.

Living in Colombia, in a world of Spanish, when my doorman still sounds like he’s speaking Mandarin to me (I don’t speak Mandarin), I’m reminded of Spanish class and watching Destinos, the telenovela made for Spanish learners.

So when I visited Buenos Aires, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the Destinos locations, as part of my own “Hollywood tour.” It’s not the Oscars but it certainly is cultural.

The hotel where the main character stayed in Destinos.
The hotel where the main character stayed in Destinos…?

I also decided that this gives me a good reason to visit Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Spain… not that I need one.