By Bob Herkes
I can hear the platter sizzling as it leaves the kitchen and approaches our table, the steak I ordered still cooking as it is placed before me, along with the huge, meter-high brochette that is placed with the guest across from me. This is truly a feast fit for the Barbarian, who’s larger than life image is on the wall above me.
El barBaro, the Barbarian, can be found in the northern Ecuadorian city of Ibarra. The restaurant is in a residential section of the city away from the central shopping area so is a little hard to find. We join a small crowd gathered outside waiting for the doors to open at 6 PM.
The décor could be considered simple and spare, plain wooden chairs with no cushions and large bare wooden tables with plastic placemats, a steak knife and fork rolled in a paper napkin. There is also a napkin holder stuffed with paper napkins and a condiment rack with balsamic vinegar, oil, and salt.
The menu is just a few pages, appetizers, brochettes, entrees and beverages. The dinner prices average $10 US and the meals include a small entrée salad and fried potatoes. Our party of 8 each order something different, half from the brochette page, half from the entrée page with a beverage of our choice. After a few minutes wait, our meals arrive in quick succession. To say that the portion size is generous doesn’t do it justice.
Each brochette skewer entrée hangs from a hook on a stainless-steel wire support with the potatoes and salad on a platter under it. The steak pieces on the skewer are large balls of meat alternating with vegetables, heavy on the meat. The top of the skewer hangs at eye level, close to a meter long, with a little space at the bottom so you could pull a piece down with your fork to the plate below. One friend has a mix of fish and shrimp, and the portion size is large as well.
My wife orders the mixed plate of wings, beef ribs and a pork chop, which come on a platter the size of the placemat it covers. I order the “Lomo Bife,” arriving on its own sizzling hot platter with Asparagus, the potatoes, and salad being served on a small side plate. I asked for medium temperature, it’s perfect, one of the best steaks I’ve had in Ecuador. The cut is a sirloin, broiled with a bit of sea salt, easily cut with the small steak knife at hand. The flavor is mouth-watering, the texture firm, with just a little marbling. Each member of our party devours their meal with zeal, several unable to finish their salad or potatoes after consuming their entrée. We discuss dessert, but clearly none of us have room left, probably explaining why there is only a small note on the menu, “dessert is available, just ask your server.”
As we begin to leave, we notice the crowd gathered around us, the room is filled with people waiting to be seated, no one is waiting outside in the chilly Andean night air. Ecuadorians tend to dine later in the evening, so we recommend making sure to be early and arrive at opening to avoid the crowd. But if you choose to arrive later, the food and prices are well worth a wait and a feast worthy of a barbarian.
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