The sun is a passion in Cuzco. This time of the year it shines brightly and brings so much warmth, people call these dry season days summer, even though technically it is winter. During the rainy season, when clouds hide the sun, and people call it winter, they still have passion for the sun, for those brilliant moments when it breaks through.
Of course, the sun was also the great God of the Incas, and important to the Christians and Romans before them. In more recent times, before the French Revolution and the growth of modern, citizen, states, another claim to the sun shined. Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, a total monarch and patron of the arts, not only laid a brilliant example for desiring elites of the future, but also established what became the base of French haute Cuisine, the high culinary code that still dominates the earth.
On a very dark and narrow street in Cuzco, across from the gleaming Marriott Hotel and the similar Novotel, another sun has opened which brings all of this together in a fabulous culinary offering for the Imperial city.
It is a restaurant called Le Soleil, filled with gold leaf and mirrors to bring light and fine French cuisine to Cuzco’s restaurant scene and its streets. Edouard, a French expatriot and the owner may well be the person who greets you at the door, by the large wooden bar, and invites you into the relatively small dining area with its bright white table cloths, to find you a table.
In his diaphanous French accent, whether in English or Spanish, and I imagine French, he will show you the menu and give you explanations of the offerings.
The building is very old. It was probably already there when the Sun King placed demands on his kitchen that led to the refinement of technique and ingredients that is French Cuisine. It may well have been built during the civilizing push of another great, centralizing monarch, Charles the Vth, the Holy Roman Emperor, as well as Spanish King who came close to ruling the globe. He established his own culinary traditions, along with an architecture of empire and perhaps the first modern bureaucracy.
Though both monarchs are long gone, their heritage remains, and not just buildings. French cuisine became the sine qua non of the culinary world through the expansion of not only France, but the British Empire which while expressing dislike for France and things French saw France as the beacon of cultivation and refinement. Haute cuisine has been changed since it first came together, and most recently deconstructed in, among others, the fascinating work of Catalan Chef Ferran Adriá.
Edouard and Soleil do not promise the grandiosity, nor the expense of that kind of demanding Haute Cuisine, in which ever of its forms. Instead, it promises the kind of French Cuisine that developed in the engagement of the French middle classes with the Court, and which is what one expects in a reasonable Parisian restaurant.
Le Soleil prepares and presents the food very well. It already is probably one of the best restaurants in Cuzco even without the flash and style of the cosmopolitan hotel restaurants or the offerings of celebrity chef Coque Ossio, such as MAP Cafe. Furthermore, the prices are extremely reasonable for what it offers.
The menu is divided into a five course set meal, as well as a seven course one with pairings, followed by listings of individual dishes. The five course runs 119/ S (about $43 US) and the seven course at 159 (about $58 US). This is a medium price for a good deal.
The five course includes snails in a butter parsley sauce, foie gras, a duck confit, a chocolate Opera for desert, and a glass of sauternes wine. The seven course brings you pork rillette, a cream of squash and ginger soup, avocado and vegetable curls salad, Andean trout filet and brandade, beef tenderloin, and a shot of citrus and mango soup for dessert as well as a creme brulee.
We ordered from the list of dishes. Everything was prepared exquisitely and was presented with conscious awareness of the importance of beauty. Bt the tastes, balanced and well thought out were very satisfying. There was no “look-at-me-I-went-to-culinary-school” pretension, or overwrought show to make sure you realize you are paying for gourmet.
Instead every things was understated, beautiful and delicious, as many people insist fine style should be.
Edouard and Le Soleil, with their year of existence in the city, have given it an important venue for those who simply love good food. That is the sun light that they give on Calle San Agustin 275, every day of the week–except Wednesday–for lunch and dinner. Going there will definitely be a bright spot of any stay in the Imperial city, where the sun is still worshipped.