By Robert Bradley
The alfresco restaurant, Casa Azul Galeria Cafe, on the plaza of San Sebastian church, was my first haunt in Cuenca. Several mornings a week I would wander down, plop into one of their comfortable chairs, and read for an hour or so while sipping their delicious coffee. Because I was so fresh to understanding the “real” Cuenca, the timeless quality of the plaza, and the comforting ambiance of Casa Azul, seemed almost magical, and timeless.
Now I know better; it was magical and timeless.
I am thrilled to report that Thomas Wolfe was mistaken: you can go home again. The new Casa Azul, under the watchful eyes of co-owners, Jose Brito and Vivi Chicalza, combines the amiable ambiance of the original Casa Azul, with seasoned, youthful energy.
Chicalza and Brito have their chops down already and for good reason; they were the first two employees hired by a previous owner, Greg Kluyskens, who set the benchmarks of the original restaurant’s success. In fact, Greg is serving as an unofficial consultant — I saw him washing dishes during the grand opening party last week.
Brito and Chicalza offer a professional dining experience reminiscent of Europian bistros. The casual ambiance of the original Casa Azul is firmly established, but cleaner lines, a pastry display case, and an improved art gallery are obvious and welcomed improvements. Of course, the food is what matters most.
Brito, a graduate of San Isidro Cooking School (class of ‘18), holds certifications as a chocolatier and chef de cuisine. Chicalza, graduates (chef de cuisine), from San Isidro next week.
When I asked them about their plans to develop the menu, both enthused, “You can expect a more generous experience. Plate presentation will take on greater prominence, and our selection of ‘specials’ will reflect our training in French technique. The general tone of our restaurant will be the style we developed working with Greg.”
I dropped in for lunch twice this week, once choosing a chicken and mushroom quesadillas ($4.50) the other for a vegetarian crepe ($4.60)
Both were absolutely delicious and excellently prepared. Good cooking counts and the new owners are serious professionals. I waddled away too stuffed to jump.
I have every confidence that Casa Azul will regain the popularity of the past and acquire another fleet of loyal followers drawn to the careful blend of art and culture as well as good food. The restaurant plans monthly concerts as well as continuing to display local artists on its interior walls.
Brito and Chicalza are fulfilling their dreams. I offer them my best wishes.
Casa Azul Galeria Cafe: San Sebastian Plaza, next to San Sebas Cafe; Hours: Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Phone; 098 596 9115; Facebook