DINING WITH PENNY: La Esquina and Vino & Olivo: a new Cuenca shopping and dining experience that’s hard to beat

Feb 14, 2010

One of Cuenca’s best kept secrets is the charming little mall known as La Esquina De Las Artes, located at 12 de Abril and Agustin Cueva, across the street from the University of Cuenca theater. A lovingly designed project by Cuenca’s gran dame of the arts, Diana Sojos, this former private home now houses a variety of high-end shops, a conference room and Vino & Olivo Restaurante (upstairs with entrances from the front and from the courtyard).

The downstairs shops include hand-knitted apparel, jewelry, art glass, hats, an art gallery, a coffee and sandwich cafe, and ceramics by Cuenca’s renowned father and son artist duo, Eduardo and Juan Vega.  The conference center is a work of art itself, featuring huge bamboo rafters and windows on two sides.

Vino & Olivo offers outdoor patio dining, a small bar and a variety of cozy indoor seating areas overlooking the Tomebamba river and the “hanging houses” of Cuenca’s Barranco.

My personal V&O favorites are the Ensalada Exotica, a diced delight of crab meat, couscous, mango and green onion ($5.50) and their locro de papa, the traditional Ecuadorian potato soup with cheese ($3). They also offer a good variety of salads ($4-$5.50), ceviches including one made with espondilus ($5-$9.50), appetizers such as salmon tartare, esparagus vinegrette and crab relleno ($3.50-$8) and soups ($3-$3.50).

If you like to dine tapas style (small portions of various dishes for those who like a variety of tastes), there’s a long list of delicacies in both individual servings ($2.50-$4) and group dishes for the table ($8-$18).  Entrees include meat, fish and chef’s specials of the house ($6.50-$9). On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, Vino & Olivo offer two-person specials of paella de mariscos and paella mar y tierra as well as fideua con allioli ($14-$16). Desserts include a delicious apple strudel, homemade ice cream, mousse and cheesecake.

The bar dispenses a house sangria, international beers such as Franziskaner, Lowenbrau, Corona and Heineken, as well as national beers. Waters and fruit juices as well as a selection of teas, espresso, American coffee and hot chocolate complete the beverage menu. Mixed drinks and cordials are limited but favorites are available. Our waiter spoke perfect English, having lived in the U.S. for years, and he provided excellent service.

Bottom line: Vino & Olivo is great way to cap off an afternoon of shopping and sight-seeing. Be sure to bring your appetite.

Vino & Olivo is open Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, and from 6 to 10 pm. On Sundays, they’re open from 11 am to 4 pm. Call ahead for reservations (tel. 409-1083) or just drop in.

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