Scattered among the many sublime features of Cuenca is a multitude of fine restaurants which are inviting guests once again. The range is expansive. There are a few places that encourage men to wear a sportscoat, or at least a well-pressed shirt and fine trousers, semi-casual eveningwear for women is considered appropriate; a few others require their patrons to do no more than adhere to the dictate, “no shoes, no shirt, no service”, although sometimes the shoe thing is overlooked.
There are scads of family-run restaurants with family-style cooking, and a few joints where the food is secondary to the entertainment. However, it is a rare treat to find a restaurant that can confidently blend fine dining and live entertainment. Yakumama Bistro, in the courtyard of the Hostel Yakumama (Luis Cordero 5.66 y Juan Jaramillo), provides just such a combination of qualities. Their roster of performances includes some of Cuenca’s finest musicians.
However, it is in the kitchen that Yakumama shines. It produces an impressive array of dishes cooked just like mama used to make — that is if your mama spent her childhood learning “la technique” in the bistros of southern France and northern Italy.
I dropped in one morning and ordered Huevos Rancheros ($5.95). This Mexican standard is classically made with tomatoes and chilis: I was pleasantly surprised to receive lightly seasoned black beans stewed in a savory sauce and crowned with two poached eggs. Delicious. A recent dinner consisted of perfectly baked vegetable lasagna with a velvety textured béchamel and finished with a golden brown parmesan crust. It was as tasty as it was invigorating. On both occasions, breakfast, and dinner, I selected from the daily dessert sheet. Scrumptious.
Yakumama’s entrees are simple, reflect the seasons, and are presented with a gentle touch displaying the high standard that the chefs require from the well-trained staff. The service appears to be casual, but is really the reflection of consummate professionals who take you in hand and guide you through the entirety of your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
They are very adept at remembering your name and preferences and are genuinely concerned that your dining experience is flawless.
Four Apolo family members, a scion of the Petite Jardine dynasty, are actively involved in creating the tenure and tone of the business, the kitchen is helmed by Chefs Alicia Hurtazo and Lorena Alvarez; it is this wonderful collection of talent that creates a memorable dining experience.
When I asked Pepo Apolo why the family decided to open a restaurant, he replied, “Because we didn’t know any better. It is very hard work and is always on our minds. However, some of us only know how to work with our hands, so this is a good choice.”
All of the family members contribute — Christine, the designated “academic’ of the family, specializes in maintaining the electrical and restaurant-oriented computer applications, Pepo manages the front of the house, and Cristian Apolo, a trained chef, is interested in expanding the herb garden and further developing their commitment to organics. Everyone agrees that success will be defined by passing the restaurant to the next generation of Apollos.
It is always a pleasure to enjoy an evening dining in a fine restaurant that has the talent to provide, and the dedication required to commit to excellence. The warm — country ambiance, attractive lighting, and open kitchen sets the tone for a delightful evening that will unfold before.
It’s time well spent.
Yakumama Bistro: Luis Cordero 5.66 y Juan Jaramillo; Hours: Monday. – Saturday 8 a.m. to 12 a.m..; Sunday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Major credit cards accepted: yes; Facebook