Cuzco has fine places where you can enjoy good food and drink in a beautiful space. The city has improved much in the last years. Two of the currently acclaimed places are Cicciolina, an Italianish, novo-Andean restaurant that is well established, and Baco, a relatively new wine bar and restaurant.
You enter Cicciolina (Sunturwasi 393)–with its playful name from an Italian porn star, politician, and singer –via a staircase in an old, colonial building whose patio needs repair, one block from Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas, its main square. Up the stairs there are two restaurants. Cicciolina is to the left down the balcony.
Inside, the space is shaped in dark wood, enormous mirrors, and dramatic, oversized paintings. The tables are draped in white cloths that would seem to impart formality and elegance if they were not so well worn. Instead, the place has the style and drive of an old club past its prime but still stylish and comfortable.
You enter through a bar area with a few tables and pass into a modestly sized dining room whose windows out on a small, colonial plaza with a charming fountain beneath the burnt orange roofing tiles and white walls of surrounding buildings.
Cicciolina is a well established restaurant that has had time to define its offerings and refine its kitchen. It promises to select the best local vegetables and herbs, which it finds in the nearby Sacred Valley of the Incas. It also promises a creativity and refinement typical of fine Novo-Andean cuisine, although no where does it define itself as such.
The menu carries offerings of rethought and reworked Andean favorites. To these it adds creative pastas based on an Italian theme as its name would suggest as well as a set of tapas and an offering of a variety of wines by the bottle or by the glass.
Many restaurants promise much in their flyers and on their web pages, but Cicciolina actually follows through.
For example, we ordered a salad that was creative in its combination of ingredients and in its vinaigrette. However, every single ingredient was fresh and burst with individual flavor. The salad alone was superb, well before we got our main dishes. But with the vinaigrette that balanced the salad perfectly in acidity and depth we had a work of flavor and art.
I ordered beet raviolis. I was surprised and pleased with what arrived. It was as if one of the brightly colored paintings had come off the wall and settled on my plate. The raviolis were prepared with beet juice which gave them a stunning color. That combined with the well crafted filling and sauce made for a gustatory pleasure.
If my experience is any measure, Cicciolina is among the best of Cuzco’s restaurants in terms of its ambience and food.
Baco (Ruinas 465), owned by the same enterprise as Cicciolina, is another story. It does not quite reach the heights it promises, even though the place is beautifully appointed–like its sister restaurant–and has a exquisite sounding menu.
Just as Cicciolina is the name of a porn star and, as a consequence, suggest bodily delights and pleasure, with a sense of nastiness, the name Baco is Bacchus in English, or Dionysis, the Roman and Greek god of wine and festivities.
Cicciolina began a focus on wine with its promise of a bodega, or a wine celler, given the increasing quality and popularity of South American wines and the demand for them. Some two years ago, its owners decided to expand the promise of wine and open a small restaurant, lounge, focusing on wine and light foods.
Baco does offer a variety of wines with a strong focus on South American and they are of a range of qualities and prices, although the offerings by the glass are limited. If only the servers were fully knowledgeable about their wines and pairings, the overall experience of Baco would be better, While far from unknowledgeable, they do not have, yet, the training required to fully discuss the qualities of their various vintages and their relationship with the foods offered.
Unfortunately, the weak aspect of Baco is the food. It is pretentious in presentation, but unremarkable. Sadly, the finest part of what we ordered turned out to be the free appetizer they offered as a compliment.
In others visits, I have had finely crafted small dishes, like tapas that were creative and tasty.
Though I criticize Baco, still the overall experience of visiting the place is one that is strongly enhanced by a good glass of wine and good company. That, afterall is its purpose.
Given the technical skill and grace of Cicciolina, I expect Baco to improve as time goes by. Perhaps the impishness and flagrance of Bacchus will inspire them to live up to what they promise.