Going south has never tasted so good. Quito has a number of great Argentine-style barbeques, but only Sur Restaurant has been able to move beyond the confines of the traditional parrilla to offer a broader dining experience. And though Sur is now the scene for events and tastings it remains true to the most important part of Argentine dining: the meat.
When you go to an Argentine restaurant the whole world wants to eat the typical Argentine food they go for what is traditional, says Leandro Buratovich, one of three brothers who runs Sur along with their mother, Ann Mejia.
And tradition, in the form of an authentic Argentine grill, is there to meet and greet diners as they enter the restaurant; But, once visitors squeeze past the entrance everything else changes.
We are not a typical, informal rustic barbeque, explains Ann. We have a distinguished ambiance, more sophisticated. We have a modern ambiance and more elements, she says.
It is a luxury barbeque, adds Leandro.
When founder Nestor Buratovich, an Argentine native with a passion for his countrys barbeque tradition, passed away, his three sons, Leandro, Daniel and Adrian, took charge and together completely transformed the Argentine dining experience.
We made a complete turn doing parties with wine, inviting clients, younger people, says Leandro. Before, the target was people aged 50 years and up. There were no young people, there were no women. Though Sur still values their long-time customers, with a few strategic changes they have found a way to welcome so many more.
To make the restaurant more appealing to new crowds Adrian took charge of the bar after completing courses at Shakers in England, a well-known bartender school. He made a new cocktail menu and refreshed the bar, says Leandro. Liquor sales have increased dramatically as new drinks have augmented the menu of traditional beverages.
Though the bar is pleasingly stocked with premium liquors the bartender is often found preparing Surs most popular cocktail, the Paradise, which ironically does not even have alcohol. Ann says women, especially, love this drink.
Sur also has created new areas in the restaurant, taking full advantage of their unique design. Transformed from a residential house, Sur is deceptively spacious. An outdoor patio with heat lamps segues to a narrow entrance with the Argentine barbeque on full display. But as guests move inside the restaurant opens into an impressive dining area with inter-connected rooms on two levels designed around elegant wine displays.
Though each space is contemporary, the Cava room, or wine cellar, is unmatched among other restaurants in Quito, having received numerous recognitions in the media. Unlike so many cellars, Surs Cava is actually underground. And it provides not only temperature controlled storage, but serves as a special dining area and showroom enveloping guests in warmth and class.
The cellar is just one of three spaces, apart from the main dining salon, that can be cordoned off for special events, which Sur hosts weekly.
We give tasting and pairing shows, explains Leandro. We do tastings for wine, champaign, whiskey, and beer. Sur hosted 45 events last year alone.
Any group that wishes to understand better the relation between food and drink, or reserve a dedicated atmosphere for a meeting, can book a space at Sur. The restaurant hosts large and small groups. The Cava seats 70 people, while two other venues, the French room and the Sur Salon, accommodate 40 and 20 diners, respectively.
We facilitate everything for the client and not all restaurants have this, not the space and not the service, says Ann. And it helps that each of her sons is a sommelier with complementary expertise or specializations in administration, marketing, or simply the natural ability to entertain.
Though they have completely transformed their operations, Sur remains, fundamentally, an Argentine grill.
Our focus is the meat. Seventy percent of the plates we sell are meat, explains Leandro who says the most popular cuts are bife de chorizo (short loin), colita de cuadril (tri-tip), and picaña (top bottom round), a popular Brazilian cut of beef.
People love the picaña, agrees Ann. She also says, Bife de chorizo is the typical Argentine cut that people have tried when they traveled to Argentina and always want to try it again.
All meat dishes, whether appetizers or main cuts, are prepared on a grill imported from Argentina. Its the Mercedes Benz of grills, says Ann as she demonstrates the ease of lowering the racks. She then moves over to the cross a vertical grill where Sur prepares beef, pork ribs, and lamb, over slow burning wood.
This (the cross) is another kind of cooking with other smoked aromas that impregnate the lamb and ribs and give a different touch, explains Leandro.
But the grill alone did not come from Argentina. Sur Restaurant has grown alongside its Argentine chef, Omar Bertorelli, from Cordova.
Omar is the creator and creativity behind our menu. He is a chef formed from experience. He works hard. He is intelligent, says Leandro. He is a fundamental part of the restaurant.
Omar has been careful to take into account his customers non-beef preferences.
Our principal food is the meat but really it is whatever we can grill. Ecuadoreans love seafood, says Ann. That includes new fish plates such as a grilled sea bass with a mushroom sauce and Portobello mushrooms with broccoli and fried squid. They also offer a grilled salmon and a Pacific salmon with an oyster sauce.
And if you want a mix of meat and seafood they offer the Parilla del Mar, or ocean grill, with prawns, squid, octopus, clams, mussels, sea bass, salmon, and grilled vegetables.
Other popular options include a baked suckling pig and raviolis made fresh in their own bakery. Everything is from scratch explains Ana as she walks through the expansive kitchen with her sons, divided cleanly into a bakery, butcher shop, and hot kitchen.
My father cooked well and he loved the kitchen, says Leandro. He and his family have taken that love and shown Quito an entirely new way of expressing it.
Sur Parilla Gourmet is located on Portugal Avenue E11-61 & Catalina Aldaz. For reservations and information call 225-6739. Meals at SUR average $30 per person. Find them on facebook: Restaurante SUR and follow them on Twitter @Restaurante Sur.