Combine a passion for the culinary arts, a little mysticism and the desire to serve others above all else and what have you got – El Colgado Restaurante on the Rio Tomebamba in Cuenca. Opened just a couple of months ago by Gustavo Chalco and Carlos Lima, the restaurant’s name comes from a deep interest in tarot cards and their meanings. According to Gustavo, El Colagado (the Hanged Man) “… stands for someone in constant meditation. He understands the game of life, but chooses to watch instead of play the game.”
Located in the El Vado district, which is one of the oldest in the city and is home to many craftsman and artists, El Calgado is in the lower level of La Casa de los Arcos (the House of the Arches) which is one of my favorite historic homes along the river. Prior to becoming a restaurant, the building had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition in 1999. The University of Cuenca purchased it and began the laborious and extensive renovation project. They took great care to bring the building back to its former glory, including bringing artists in to restore the murals using original materials. They reopened the upper floors in 2009 as a cultural center for exhibitions of various art forms, lectures and conferences. The University offered to rent the lower level to their star culinary student Gustavo, who has traveled to the US, Spain and Peru and earned many awards for his culinary skill.
Friends since they were children, Carlos and Gustavo had not seen each other in 10 years, but they had always wanted to open a restaurant together and call it El Colgado Restaurante (The Hanged Man). When they walked through the building – they realized it was meant to be. Painted on the wall were four stars – representing the elements Earth, Wind, Fire & Water. There are also 12 windows – the Hanged Man is the 12th card in the Major Arcana in traditional Tarot decks. All signs pointed to this being the perfect space for their restaurant.
When you first walk in, you are greeted by a life-sized hanged man, representing the tarot card from which the name originates. This is a great place to snap a photo or two! As you walk through the restaurant, you notice the amazing art hanging on the walls. Gustavo’s father is the famous artist, Jorge Chalco, who has hosted exhibits in Cuenca, Quito, Miami, Amsterdam, and Venice. His colorful art brings the walls of the restaurant to life.
Depending on the weather, you have three distinct choices for dining. Carlos is a designer, and the spaces reflect his creative expertise. The furniture was designed for the restaurant, as well as the plates and pottery the food is served on. There is a lovely terrace directly on the Tomebamba River offering a serene and gorgeous setting to have lunch or dinner and listen to the soothing sounds of water flowing over the rocks. If it’s too chilly or rainy for outside dining, there is a choice of two inside dining rooms – one of which boasts large windows framing amazing views overlooking the river.
The food is good and plentiful. With the beautiful presentation of dishes and hearty portions, you can’t go wrong eating at El Colgado. Sourcing foods from the Ecuadorian highlands and the coast, they offer a tribute to forgotten products cooked in new ways such as Quinoa, Machica, and Papas Chaucha. It is estimated that there are over 350 varieties of potatoes in Ecuador alone! The menu will change seasonally as items are available.
Gustavo offers a variety of gastronomic delights full of colors, flavors and aromas. The food is sourced directly from the farmers, so this is true ‘Farm to Table’ dining. With stuffed baked potatoes, a variety of fresh seafood, tender beef and vegetarian dishes on the menu there is something for every palate. Novoandina is a new Andean cooking style which brings new twists to traditional foods from the Andean culture. Served in updated and innovative ways – the food will keep you coming back for more.
In keeping with The Hanged Man meaning, Gustavo tells me, “I want nothing for myself, but something for everyone else.”