BBQ chic in José Ignacio

Beachside dining with sumptuous seafood and sundowners in Uruguay

For citizens of the world planning to swing by Uruguay, I’d urge a detour to the quaint seaside town of José Ignacio, and in particular to stop at the newly opened La Susana restaurant. The owners of nearby boutique boltholes Estancia Vik and Playa Vik have added this casual beachfront spot to their surf-chic mix, and the menu, ambience and attentive staff – including gregarious chef Marcello – are already firing on all cylinders.

La Susana is open from noon (presumably for the odd American like me who shows up early), but this thatched eatery doesn’t get hopping until about 3pm – a civilised lunch hour for this part of the world. The wooden walkway approach to the restaurant – complete with boxes of kitchen herbs grown along the side – ends in a cheerful, light-filled space full of natural wood, white adobe and upbeat animé paintings lining the walls (the owners are avid contemporary art collectors – don’t miss the James Turrell light installation at Playa Vik just steps down the beach).

But it is the outdoors – complete with grill and a shaded bamboo-bar area – that is the place to be on sunny afternoons and starry nights. The clientele is eclectic and on the day of our visit the place was packed with locals, European tourists and families. It is an ideal place for children, who can frolic in the sand while parents sip inventive cocktails (largely made with the owner’s Norwegian Christiania vodka), including the Red Hot Caipi (US$10) – vodka, berries, vermouth rosso, Tabasco and lime – and the Sushi Mary ($12) with its delicious mix of tomato juice, wasabi, soy and Worcestershire sauces. The latter sounded a bit odd, but it was salty and satisfying and worked well with the abundance of grilled fare we ordered.

I’m a fan of simple food prepared in interesting, regional ways and La Susana provides just that kind of experience. We started with a plate of Crudités Club 55 ($21.50) – a bountiful platter of locally grown radishes, cucumbers, peppers and courgettes with garlicky sauces for dipping – and the brótola (a local white fish) ceviche of the day ($14.50). Given the restaurant’s location just steps from the ocean, seafood is the way to go here and freshly grilled silverside fish ($17) did not disappoint.  

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Straightforward burgers – of the beef ($14) and veggie ($14.50) varieties – were also being turned out by the boatload, all accompanied by sides of rosemary-dusted French fries ($6) and a Uruguayan favourite – crushed ruby beets ($7.50). Of special note were the “side” salads that could have been mistaken for robust meals. The signature La Susana version, for example, is comprised of quinoa, figs, almonds, corn, cabbage and yoghurt, and while it didn’t initially call my name, I ended up loving its combination of textures and flavours.

Desserts included a chocolate-ice-cream bomb ($10) and plenty of the ultra-sweet dulce de leche– in gelados ($10.50) and mousses ($10) – a South American staple at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Meals can spin out for hours – what’s better than indulging by the beach? – and many diners linger long into the waning sunset. Who can blame them, for at just a year old, La Susana is seriously hitting its stride.

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