To the coast and back: The obvious secret of the success of El Esmeraldas Restaurant

03/Diciembre/2012 | 15:45


By Lance Brashear

lbrashear@hoy.com.ec


Traveling and childhood are most favorably recalled by the single most important, daily event of our lives: eating.  What we take away from both experiences – one, the anchor of our identity, the other, part of the net we cast as we redefine that identity – is the memory of the flavors that keep us afloat.


The importance of food and memory are underscored by the volumes of research that inextricably link the two.  Though it is a fascinating nuanced subject for researchers, it is understood at the most basic level by successful chefs and restaurateurs, like Enrique Lozano, of El Esmeraldas Restaurant in Quito.


Lozano is not a chef by training; he does not have to be.  Lozano figured out how to make the obvious more successful than many who came before him. 


Like all Ecuadorians Lozano understands food, especially the food of his childhood. In particular, he remembers and cherishes the flavors of his childhood vacations to Esmeraldas Province on the coast of the Ecuador.


“In Quito, everyone, since the time they were young, has gone to Esmeraldas, so I remember throughout my entire life, these flavors.  In Esmeraldas you eat well…so these same mystical flavors, we want to bring to Quito.”


 He is obviously not the first to do it, but he is one of the few to do it well.  Before El Esmeraldas came on to the restaurant scene five years ago, the success of coastal food offerings in Quito were achieved principally at the fast food level – very good, but not as fine and enjoyable as it should be.


“Ecuadorian food has been a fast food theme, but we [at El Esmeraldas] give a certain category without forgetting the original.  What we do is not novel, we are not a restaurant that wants to separate ourselves from our roots.  We are not fusion food.  Ninety-nine percent of Ecuadorians know what an encocado is, they know what a concha prieta is, they know about shrimp.  Here there is no trick, no posturing…this is very honest cuisine.”


Though Lozano is from Quito, and though he understands and loves his native food from the sierra  – locros, grains, pork, potatoes - the  cuisine in Ecuador that “carries the baton,” as he says, is Manabitan and Esmeraldan food. 


But do not be misled, his food is exactly as the name indicates, food from Esmeraldas (not Manabi): ceviches, cazuelas, and encocados.


“I have about ten preparations…what we did was take the most representative plates in which the ingredients are most easily obtained.


Since day one he says they have never had to adjust the menú.  “All plates have been maintained because everything is requested.”


Esmeraldas – the province and the restaurant that bares its name in Quito – is most associated with the “encocado” – a preparation made from coconut.  Though they have fifteen different encocado options on their menu, in reality there is really just one preparation. 


 “The encocado is basically a very concentrated soup with vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes, [and] garlic, cilantro, with coconut water,” explains Lozano.  “This is concentrated and left to boil.”  He then adds more spices like salt, cumin, achiote, and aciote oil.  As it concentrates it becomes very strong.


Then, separately, he grates the coconut and compresses the pulp to extract the coconut milk.  It is blended with cow’s milk and cream and allowed to boil another 4-5 hours.

This, he explains, becomes the base for all of the encocado plates.  “When you want [encocado] shrimp, you boil it and cook it in this sauce.  They cook together.  The seafood gives flavor to the sauce and the sauce gives flavor to the seafood.”


He admits there may be a few changes but only out of necessity for the purpose of remaining consistent.  He says he looks for the best products that can be obtained regularly in Quito.  And Lozano says there are no secrets.  He is not worried that you will try to steal his encocado recipe.  He knows his clients don’t want that.  What they want is to come to his little oasis on Isabel La Catolica Street, a true refuge from the offices and business of La Floresta neighborhood, for a quick escape to the coast before heading back to work.


And for the visitors - the tourists who seem to be as much a part of the Esmeraldas scene as the locals (Lozano offers menus in English and French, besides Spanish) - they either make their way to El Emseraldas after returning from the beach to seek the flavors of the coast, or they head to the beach after having tasted Lozano’s dishes. 


 “You find here a lot of foreigners,” Lozano says, pointing out a few as he looks around his open-air location behind the Swissotel.   “This is super light.  Here you try food that you will not eat in any other part of the world. I have had good Peruvian food in Miami and Chile.  Argentina barbeque you can eat it all the way to the North Pole; but Ecuadorian food, never.”


Lozano adds, “When you go to Niagra you have to go to the falls.  When you come to Quito you have to come here to eat.  This is something very specific.  The foreigners realize this.”


If you are in Quito, especially if you are recovering from the “fiestas” of the past week, find your way to El Esmeraldas today.  The restaurant is laid back and welcoming.  And feel free to bring the kids along (battered shrimp or fish nuggets are on the children’s menu).


El Esmeraldas is located behind the Swissotel on Isabel La Catolica N24-560, near Cordero.  They are open every day from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Visit their website at www.elsemeraldas.com or become a facebook fan www.facebook.com/elesmeraldas.

 


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