Ah, summertime. If you’re stuck in Buenos Aires it usually means sweating in places you never thought possible, praying the power doesn’t go out on the hottest day of the year, and taking at least six cold showers a day.
For those lucky enough to make their way across the River Plate to the bucolic Eden that is Uruguay, however, verano takes on a completely different connotation. Splashing through turquoise waves, complying with the tacit “All White Linen, All the Time” dress code, and eating seafood at every meal are just part of the glorious package. If you can filter out the annoying bits (Argentine dads that are 40+ but refuse to wear anything that isn’t a graphic t-shirt with jean shorts and Converse All-Stars, for example), you’ll soon come to the conclusion that la vida es mejor en el Este.
Once-sleepy José Ignacio has slowly compiled an arsenal of incredible restaurants, transforming it into a new gastro-capital worthy of the 30km trip away from glitzy Punta del Este. As you leave the massive condos behind, the sandy roads and pine trees give way to a more relaxed, boho chic vibe that lets you breathe that much easier. Everything is deceptively simple, and unless you’re a globetrotting millionaire with an eye for Middle Eastern textiles, you’ll be hard pressed to replicate once you’re back home. But that’s all part of the magic, isn’t it?
Zipping down Ruta 10, as you pass La Juanita beach, don’t miss the turn that will lead you to La Susana, nestled within the ultra chic, super luxe Bahía Vik. As you pass through the indoor dining area, with its natural wood, open windows, and rustic details, you’re transported to a seemingly isolated, tucked away paradise spread out across the sand and overlooking the sea. A thatched canopy provides a bit of shade, and the breeze blowing in across the water is almost as refreshing as the pitcher of Clericó you’re about to order once you sit down.
Taking in the view, it’s easy to forget that it’s still technically high season and groups of people will soon be clamoring at the front, doing their best to impress the hostess in hopes of scoring the most-coveted tables that offer a view of the horizon. By the time you mosey (read: stumble) back to your car at dusk diners will still be preparing to tuck in to their little feasts.
At first glance, the menu appears to offer the staples that are so common at seaside resort towns: fried calamari, grilled fish, ceviches and the like. However, you’ll soon realize that these classics have been reinvented, managing to focus on simple preparations with flavorful twists that take everything up a notch (or two). Those calamari rings, usually so sad and soggy before they even reach your table, are still fluffy and airy with just enough crunch; the chargrilled brótola is marinated with a smoky, spicy pimentón that brings it to life and results in your table fighting over the last bite; the sashimi is so velvety and fresh that you wonder when you missed watching the chef hop into the ocean to fish it out just for you. For dessert, the banana and dulce de leche mousse will elicit such a response that you might scare the children sitting at the next table.
Service is impeccable. Led by a killer management team, the professional and upbeat waitstaff are spot-on with their recommendations and make you feel like you’ve got their undivided attention, despite the fact that the restaurant is packed to the gills. The friendly atmosphere is contagious, and the snobbery that plagues so many other restaurants has no place here on this idyllic slice of beach.
All of this perfection comes with a price tag, of course. You might not want to do to the currency calculations as you’re signing the check (why ruin the moment?), but you already understand that it was worth every penny. After all, is there anything better than digging your toes into the sand, taking a few deep breaths, and sitting down to savor one marvelous meal surrounded by the people you enjoy the most? Top it all off with a view of the sunset as you listen to some live music and you can pretty much die happy. You’ve already made reservations to come back for lunch again tomorrow, though, so it looks like you’re safe for at least another day.
Final two images courtesy of La Susana