The Asunción Wrap-Up

2012.Mar.17 Saturday · 4 comments

in Life, Restaurants

Finishing off the last full day, dinner at what’s currently rated the top of the creative cooking spots in Asunción. So, it was off to Mburicao for another pig-out….

Mburicao
Pretty room, very spacious, lots of separation between tables. Similar crowd to the night before at Tierra Colorada – picture the four women in the corner in off the shoulder leopard print spandex to complete the thought. More tourists here, not surprising given that it’s located in the heart of town in a fairly posh area rather than on the outskirts. No greetings, just a “do you have a reservation?” (for a near empty room that remained so all evening). Waitstaff very attentive though a bit nose in the air standoffish, still, efficient if not friendly I suppose – but I found it odd that my waitress had no interest in making any recommendations from the menu, nor did she seem particularly well versed in what the plates were. Tried the same approach as the night before, picking out two appetizers and then asking if she could leave it up to the chef for a main course that he wanted to show off – she declined without even asking him, just said he was too busy to be bothered with such things. Really? First off, there were only a dozen people in the room. Second off, if that’s true, he’s in the wrong business. This all kind of fits with some of the comments I’ve now gone back and read about the place on various online forums – a bit too pretentious for their own good, though balanced by quite good food.

Mburicao
Ordered another really interesting and excellent wine (did note that the same wine I’d had at Tierra Colorada for 135000pgy was available at Mburicao for 155000pgy (of course, that’s only a difference of $4 and change) – from MontGras, their “Quatro” 2009 – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carmenere and Syrah. Really beautiful wine with great mix of red and black fruits, spices, plenty of body, medium acidity. Perhaps a touch more oak than I usually go for, but still one I’d seek out on a wine list, if not to have at home to drink.

Mburicao
Figured I might as well stay with the thread of the payagua, that I’d liked both the traditional beef version of earlier in the day and the shrimp version the night before. Here, a lamb version. Beautifully prepared, nicely seasoned. Didn’t quite get the tangle of undressed alfalfa sprouts, and, keeping in line with every other meal, the lettuces were dressed with a really acidic citrus dressing – again a little salt and pepper rescued it. The roasted, dried tomatoes were a nice touch.

Mburicao
The fish selection was surprisingly limited and not very interesting. Red meat seems to be the forte here. But, I thought I’d try the surubí ravioli in a saffron chive cream sauce. Quite good, nice and plump, cooked perfectly, perhaps the sauce was a little heavy, but, I knew it was a cream sauce going into it.

Mburicao
The “succulent bistec” was the most interesting sounding of the meat dishes – more or less a fillet steak topped with chopped morcilla sausage and then broiled to just char them slightly. Great potato gratin, nice salsa criolla. Overall, good food, all really well executed and decently seasoned, but very little creativity – maybe by comparison to the typical restaurant fare in the city, but certainly not by comparison to, say, the two other “creative” Paraguayan restaurants I’d tried earlier, El Dorado and Tierra Colorada, and easily the least friendly and most pretentious service I received at any restaurant in the city during my four and half days there. Like the arrival, no goodbyes or thank yous offered when I left, though I did get a bit of a rush to the door because “your cab is already waiting for you you know” – sorry, I just asked you to call me one three or four minutes ago, I was still signing the credit card slip. A bit pricier than the other two fancy spots coming in at 349,000pgy (which is less than my bill at El Dorado, but there I had four courses, not three), or $81. Overall, I think it’d be a nice place to go if there weren’t other options or if you just want to try something else, but with El Dorado (easily my favorite meal of the trip) only a few blocks away, I’d likely go there instead.

Last day had plans to go out with Rodrigo and a couple of friends of his who were in town visiting, we were going to go out to some of the surrounding areas, see a little countryside, some of the artesan crafts and such. Unfortunately, he got called in to work at the airline at last minute and had to cancel. So, I took a relaxing morning, continuing to rest my foot a bit, though it actually seemed to be fine at this point (which turned around completely yesterday when I woke up and it looked like a red baseball – hit the local ER and the determination seems to be that I likely got bit by some insect and the bite got infected, so fun with antibiotics, ice, and hobbling about preparing tonight’s dinner), so I just did a little souvenir shopping and then had lunch at a neighborhood café, La Antigua Estación, that has a train station sort of theme to it – the waiters are “conductors”, the cooks are “engineers”, the cash register is a “ticket office”, etc. [Closed]

La Antigua Estación - surubi with roquefort
I’d seen on almost every menu some version of surubí with a blue cheese sauce and decided what the heck, everyone keeps recommending it. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much as mediocre as it sounds – a fried fillet of the fish topped with a gloppy blue cheese flavored cream sauce. At least the grilled vegetables and green salad on the side were quite good, though I have to admit that with just that, a water and a coffee, a tab of 115,000pgy or $27 seemed high in comparison to prices at other spots around, especially for the quality difference. Ah well.

Headed back to the hotel, packed, checked out, went to the airport where Rodrigo apologized profusely and made sure that again I had a great seat. Flew home, ordered sushi, life is good.

So, the final wrap-up and thoughts on Asunción, with a bit of contrast to other spots I’ve been down here and BA.

Physically, the city is much more spread out – at 45 square miles (BA is 77), but with a population that’s 1/6 of BA’s (speaking only of the two cities proper, without their surrounding metropolitan areas) – mostly that’s evidenced by it being almost completely single family dwellings of one or two stories, even the apartment buildings are smaller in general, often just three or four stories high with maybe 8-10 apartments.

It’s a much more rundown city, it reminded me a lot of visiting Henry’s hometown of Trujillo, though, it’s one of the cleanest cities I’ve been in South America, maybe second to Santiago. No dog poop (though I also noticed very few dogs), very little litter, recycling setups, etc.

It’s got an antiquated and dilapidated bus transit system that I don’t even remotely have a sense of how it works, nor did I make the effort to figure it out – most of the buses seem to just run back and forth on the few main avenues and people hail them and jump on and off at seemingly random points and for random fares. Hmm, again reminds me of Trujillo.

The people are young – in fact, I just looked up the demographics and a solid 65% of the city’s population is under the age of 30. And, while there’s clear and rampant poverty, people seem to be quite friendly. I have to admit, the general look of the place, and the fact that people are constantly eyeing you up and down if you’re a tourist and if you’re carrying anything that might be valuable, had me feeling uneasy for the trip, but, at the same time, no one ever approached and asked for anything, no one ever made any threatening moves, and I was again and again assured by people I knew and met that crime against tourists is simply not a problem. It may just be curiosity on their parts, after all, tourism is not a big thing in Paraguay. Contrast that with my having been back in BA for a mere 36 hours and have already seen two moto chorro robberies in broad daylight, both within five blocks of my home, and been accosted by one or another person begging for money at least a dozen times.

The food – heavy and starchy for the most part if you’re talking about the traditional fare. Beef and surubí (Brazilian tigerfish) are the kings of the meat world, and numerous preparations of each are generally available at everything from casual eateries to fancy spots – but almost always accompanied by heavy side dishes like yuca and potatoes. Very little in the way of fresh vegetables seems to hit the tables, and I was told by more than one person that they’re just not eaten by the majority of the population – maybe the occasional piece of fruit, but for the most part, it’s too expensive for them. Good local food blog (in Spanish), Asunción Gourmet for latest tips on what’s new and happening in town.

Costs – a very economical vacation, even with three fancy places to dine at. You could easily dine out for far less than I did and spend under $15 per dinner, and under $10 at lunch. My hotel, La Maison Suisse, clean, well kept, nice rooms, all the amenities (wi-fi, pool, small gym, garden, air conditioning, breakfast included) ran $55 a night, putting it in the mid-range of hotels in town. The current airfare from BA via Sol del Paraguay of a flat $207 roundtrip is a bargain for South America – keep in mind that that doesn’t just include the flight and tax, but also the airport departure taxes at both ends ($60 combined right now) and a free shuttle bus from BA to Ezeiza and back (there’s a near 300 peso, or $70 savings) – surprising that there’s no shuttle available at the Asunción end, but then, it’s a much cheaper taxi ride (which, going back to my original post where the taxista charged me 90,000pgy for the trip in, on the way out it was only 60,000pgy, which the driver assured me was the correct flat price).

Would I go back? Probably just to pass through on my way to explore some of the countryside stuff in Paraguay. It was an interesting city, but there’s just not a lot to do there beyond walking around and eating. Do I recommend it? Yes, though perhaps not for four and a half days unless you’re going to get some time outside the city. I think 2, maybe 3 days in town would be plenty – a nice weekend getaway (though keeping in mind that the city is pretty much closed up on Sundays).

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

George Woodward March 18, 2012 at 23:53

Dan,

As ever, I enjoy your jaunts. You have such a good eye for place, human interest, and, of course, food!

All best,
George

dan March 19, 2012 at 08:02

One of these times we have to get you along for the fun!

Ken Sternberg March 22, 2012 at 18:28

I enjoyed reading your adventures here, Dan. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. But I’m confused. You mean that when you returned home one guy asked you for money 12 times? Persistent devil.

dan March 23, 2012 at 07:44

Not sure why the confusion, it says “one or another person” – it may be slightly prosaic, but that’s usually read as more than one involved. Yet, they are persistent, often following along as you walk trying to get you to change your mind.

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