Referred to by a travel magazine in 2008 as Cuenca’s version of Rick’s Café of Casablanca movie fame, the Eucalyptus Café is easily the city’s best known restaurant and bar among tourists and foreign residents. Lonely Planet rates it the “Pick of Cuenca” and Fodor's gives it its 2010 "Award of Distinction." Established in 2002, it is the city's oldest expat-owned eating and drinking establishment.
Located in a renovated historic house and former bank on Calle Gran Colombia, the Eucalyptus’ original aim was to be an international tapas restaurant with a Spanish flare. “We discovered fairly quickly that we were ahead of the times in Cuenca and had to adjust to the market,” says owner Christopher Breen.
Today, Breen says, the Eucalyptus is undergoing another change. “We started out with an emphasis on being a restaurant but, over the years, we had become known more as bar with live entertainment,” says Breen. “We got to the point where bar sales exceeded food sales. Now, I’m changing the balance and revitalizing the restaurant side.”
Breen has reduced the number of menu items and added several new dishes with a distinctive picante edge. Among the new favorites are the stuffed home-made ravioli, Indian and Thai curries with chicken, shrimp or vegetables.
Even slimmed down, the Eucalyptus menu offers plenty of choices. Appetizers include soups (tortilla, French onion and cream of crab are all excellent), salads (the stuffed Portobello and vegetables are top drawer) as well as a variety of small dishes. The sandwiches are all good and any of the three cerviches are a great starter or a meal in themselves.
Besides the popular ravioli and curry dishes, main course highlights include pad Thai, seafood pasta, grilled langostinos, steak tenderloin and the mixed grill with steak, pork and sausage.
For groups of four to 12, the chef platters offer a sampling of some of the restaurant’s best dishes.
If you and your friends are in the mood for a feast, ask Chris to put together his special menu. On a recent night, it started with spiced, marinated olives, guacamole, hummus and homemade bread, followed with shrimp cerviche, Caesar salad and mushrooms with taxo salsa with banana. The shared main courses were a chicken satay with peanut sauce, the ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach in tom sauce, Thai green curry with chicken and vegetables, and Indian chicken vindaloo curry. All in attendance agreed: Babette would have approved. Feasts, by the way, require prior arrangement.
Prices at Eucalyptus are reasonable, with most entrees and sandwiches priced in the $4.95 to $9 range.
Breen insists that the well-stocked Eucalyptus bar is not going away and live entertainment will continue on the weekends, as will Cuenca’s only Ladies Night on Wednesdays. “The bar is still a big part of the business and it will remain that way,” he says. “My intention is to strengthen our reputation as a great place for dinner.”
Eucalyptus Café, Calle Gran Colombia between Calles Malo and Aguirre; phone 284 9157; Hours: Sunday through Tuesday, 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.; Wednesday, 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Photo captions: The Eucalyptus Café is in a renovated historic house on Gran Colombia; the staff salutes the new menu; owners – operators Chris Breen and Cody Pripis.
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