Restaurants abound on Cuzco’s main square and in the blocks nearby, where they compete with offices offering travel services and stores selling jewelry or handicrafts. Somedays it seems the Cathedral and its neighboring baroque church the Company of Jesus, as well as Cuzco’s university San Antonio Abad, seem like interlopers in a field of tourists and services for them. Among the restaurants one finds a wide variety of offerings from fast food to up-scale dining. Though the Plaza is rich with possibilities, one should not ignore what lies just barely off it.
Brava Grill and Pasta is one worth knowing. Located in the Portal Espinar, on the backside of the block that divides the Plaza de Armas, from the Plaza de Regocijo, the Main Square from the Square of Joy, Brava is a quiet, elegant place as if a refuge from the city around it.
Fresh green reeds stand in the middle of the restaurant, as if a tranquil pond lay there in the center of an elegant space. Around them concrete tables grow that, despite their material, seem light and airy. White runners cross their top with similarly white plates and shining, pot-bellied wine glasses claim their top like clouds on an inverted sky.
Red, cushioned chairs balance the fresh green of the reeds, while the restaurant’s walls are slate gray. Black and white photographs march across them like memories on a gallery wall, or the space between day and night, today and yesterday where the earth ends.
For most people Brava will seem a free standing restaurant. It has its own identity and style. Yet it joins the Peruvian sea food restaurant Yurac down where the Puma’s tail is found and the Quechua named Tupananchis across the street. None is the same, each is distinctive.
Though Cuzco has many restaurants offering pastas and pizzas, Brava’s menu is different. It emphasizes well crafted and creative pastas, such as a spinach lasagna in asparagus sauce, as well as Novo-Andean pizzas, including a well thought out one with alpaca. It also hopes to be known for its wine and bar which motivates that absolutely sparkling wine glasses.
Not only does it offer a menu of its specialties, and pasta standards, as well as grilled meats, Brava also serves an executive, fixed price lunch–called “menu” in Spanish, at around $7US (about 20/S).
Generally the food is very well prepared with a thoughtful combination of flavors to produce a synergy. As a result, the popular culinary style of giving the food vertical bulk does not take away from it, or become the high point, but rather adds to an entire experience of first sight and then bite after bite. Its signature is creativity.
However, sometimes the idea that may sound good, is not realized in a way to make the flavors really sing in harmony or counterpoint. An example is the aforementioned lasagna in asparagus sauce. It was creative, but muddled. If not for the colorful straws of camote (sweet potato) on top, it would both visually bland and tastefully blah. The idea was a wonderful one, but required more thought about how to get the best of flavor and color from the asparagus as well as the best cheeses and stuffings with which to combine it to get a zing and not an “oh well”.
On the other hand, an appetizer of panko coated, fried asparagus spears interwoven with prosciuto strips and accompanied by tiny bits of a fruit and aji (hot pepper) chutney were wonderful. Crunchy and flavorful, they composed rich, savory and sweet in counterpoint and harmony.
The alpaca pizza that was on the lunch menu was excellent as were the alpaca skewers.
Though open for a while, Brava is still looking to really come into its own as an eating destination.
Its staff is good and professional, appearing with items or information just when it is needed, although they can be better trained on wine pairings. Nevertheless, it is the hastiness of the chef who goes for concept and not idea and taste in wedded bliss that weakens what otherwise is a good restaurant.
Having made that criticism, I still must say that Brava is a good place to spend time, comfortable and calm. Its food is enticing and generally very well thought out. It is worth leaving Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas for this refuge a block away.