Eating and Sleeping in La Paz Bolivia

Dinners in La Paz Bolivia

Gusto is the most famous La Paz restaurant that many people seem to even know. Created and run by a co-founder of Copenhagen’s NOMA (the #1 rated restaurant in the world which we plan to visit in the summer of 2016), it is an attempt to do for Bolivian food what NOMA did for Scandinavian food: Not only popularize its ingredients, but to work with producers to create the very best ingredients and, unlike NOMA, to work with Bolivia’s insipient wine industry to create the best possible wines and to introduce new varietals. It uses all Bolivian ingredients and wine to produce the best meals possible.

Tom had the five-course chef’s menu while Joyce selected a complementary appetizer and entrée. We then called in the sommelier to select wine that would best compliment dishes as diverse as escabeche and pork. Our seven dishes consisted of raw caiman (a small Amazonian alligator that Gusto is paying breeders and farmers to help save from extinction) carpaccio with tomatillos, yogurt smoked peppers and arugula; llama tartar with capers on rice and beetroot chips; creamy pumpkin and herb amaranth with Bolivian cheese and confit tomatoes; escabeche with sweet potato puree, fried plantains and a mildly spicy local pepper sauce; surubi (an Amazonian fish that is related to catfish) with a chili rub, spicy corn sauce and corn tamale; slow-cooked pork with red cabbage puree and wheat berry; and a thin, house-made cookie with peanut ice cream and peanut praline and banana vinegar caramel. While everything was good, the llama tartare, surubi, amaranth and caiman carpaccio were standouts.

While the somm was somewhat constrained by the varietals currently grown in Bolivia, we were amazed by how well the 2015 Uvairena 1750 Selecione Especial Cabernet Sauvignon worked with the fish and the caiman, as well as the lamb and the llama (which was itself, surprisingly light). The reason: it was grown in a cooler, higher-altitude (1750 meter) climate and spent only a little time in stainless steel (none in oak) before going directly into the bottle). When Joyce looked for an extra glass to go with her surubi, the 2015 Ugne Blanc (grown at an amazing 3,200 meters) was surprisingly good. The staff was extremely well trained (with much of the senior staff coming from Scandinavia and working hard to train Bolivian nationals. Gusto not only serves a wonderful meal, but also provides tremendous value to the Bolivian food and wine industries.

Chez Moustache. This is one of the premier restaurants in the city—and for good reason. Our dinner consisted of only two dishes. Tom had  a wonderfully tasty and tender fillet of beef with Roquefort cream sauce, fluffy potato croquets and a small salad. Joyce’s grilled chicken breast came atop a rich and delicious mushroom risotto. We had this with a 2013 Mendoza Malbec Reserva from Fond de Cave. The service was very good (once we overcame the language barrier as no English was spoken) and the atmosphere (walls covered with photos and drawings of famous and not-so-famous men, women and animals, all sporting mustaches. Salvador Dali appropriately, received his own small wall. “Barrack Ollama”, meanwhile, got only a funny doctored head shot grafted atop a llama’s body and neck.

Chalet la Suisse. Well, it was recommended as one of the best restaurants in the city and we seldom get to enjoy good fondues. So what the heck, we went! After a 30 minute cab ride (which costs less than $5), we arrived to a large pan-European menu. We began with sea snails au gratin in herb butter and then shared a seafood fondue for two (which could have easily served three). Shrimp, octopus, squid, surubi and salmon that you boil in hot oil to taste and eat with one of four dipping sauces, along with olives, onions and a few assorted fruits and vegetables. Wonderful, especially the shrimp, trout and squid.

Lunches

Camino Real. Although in the hotel in which we were staying, we were told by independent sources that it was one of the better restaurants in town. That, combined with the interesting and varied menu and the fact that it was almost filled when we arrived, overcame our qualms. The salad bar had a number of attractive items and Joyce’s chicken in orange sauce was absolutely delicious. Tom’s expectations, however, were quashed–twice. He came in intent on trying one of the llama dishes (llama medallions with herb butter). When told they were out of llama, he settled on poached trout provincial which was overcooked and tasteless. Even a healthy dose of Joyce’s orange sauce couldn’t redeem it.

Parilla Casa Argentina After seeing and learning about the food served at “traditional” Bolivian Restaurants, we decided to leave the country with our undiluted memories of Gusto’s rarified local foods. So, rather than venture an unintended adventure at a “typical” Bolivian place, we decided to play it “safe” with Argentinean. Besides, Tom  hadn’t fully satisfied his offal fix. So while Joyce stayed with her tried and true (and quite good) grilled chicken, Tom  had blood sausage (which he has always been able to take or leave) and cow udder (which has the look, but lacks the texture or the taste of par-boiled calves’ liver). Hard to imagine? Don’t try.

 

Hotel

We stayed at 2 different hotels since we were going in and out of La Paz for overnight side trips. We first stayed at Camino Real Aparthotel & Spa Calle Capitan Ravelo.  The hotel is located in a safe area of the city, close to good restaurants, a park and shopping, but is within walking distance of the cathedral, city center and markets. This is a good neighborhood in La Paz and has funky and trendy restaurants and bars nearby on Fernando. The hotel itself, and the rooms, are not “jazzy”, but they are comfortable. On one stay, we were in a 1-bedroom and on another stay we were in a 2 bedroom. The units have a separate kitchen area and sitting area. Roomy (especially the 2-bedroom) and comfortable. They were renovating the lobby when we were there so reception was stuck in a small desk outside of the elevator. Still the staff was very good in helping us plan our time in La Paz

On our last nights in La Paz, we decided to move to a newer more modern hotel and stayed at the Stannum Boutique Hotel, Edificio Multicine Pisos 5 & 12. This hotel is on the 5th and 12th floors of a shopping mall. It is new, glitsy and more upscale. We were first given a room on the 12th floor. When we got to the room, it was very hot and we were told the entire 12th floor had an air conditioning issue but would be fixed. Not wanting to take a chance, we asked to move to the 5th floor. This was better also because the front desk and breakfast were on the 5th floor and the elevators were very slow. So not having to wait for the elevator to go to the 5th floor was better. Our room had a glass shower off to the side of the bedroom. Fortunately, we are not shy with each other. The room was small, but adequate and comfortable, but I am not sure it was worth the extra money to stay here versus at the Camino Real.

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