One of my favorite restaurants is Barrandas in the Bristol Hotel in downtown Panama City. The chef is Cuquita Arias who has been called the “Martha Stewart of Panama” and indeed she is. ( She actually took some courses from Martha.) But that description doesn’t totally do Cuquita justice. Cuquita is the member of one of Panama’s oldest and most distinguished families- her grandfather was Tomas Arias, a founding father of Panama. Her brother Raul Arias de Para is the owner of Panama’s most highly acclaimed ecolodge- Canopy Tower. Cuquita grew up loving the Panamanian dishes served in her traditional family home and has now turned these Panama dishes into haute cuisine.
Panama with its rich flor and fauna has an abundance of marvelous tropical food ingredients- fruits, vegetables and spices and a variety of seafood. . It’s cuisine is also enriched by its being a nation of immigrants- Panamanian food has the influence of many its many immigrants from the African to the French to the Chinese.
I love Cuquita’s Barrandas for several reasons. First of all, this is Panamanian gourmet food. Cuquita takes the ingredients and dishes typical to Panama and makes a nouvelle cuisine or gourmet version of them. This restaurant is a must for those who want to experience Panama cuisine at its zenith. For appetizers, I recommend the plantain wantons or the empanadas. For a main dish, try the corvina in tamarind sauce which comes with delicious rice with avocado in a yuca basket. Corvina is the best fish in Panama- sea bass in English. Corvina has no fishy taste and a succulent white meat.
For dessert-in my opinion Cuquita has the best desserts in town- I am a dessert lover but wanting to keep my girlish figure, I don’t indulge often unless it is something really worth it. At Barrandas I cannot pass up dessert- her dulce de leche cheesecake, key lime pie and baked alaska are to die for- actually all her desserts are great.
The food presentation is always beautiful. Cuquita has an exquisite sense of beauty in all she does. Another thing I love about Barrandas is the refined service and attention of the waiters and staff ( although service can be slow so this is no place to dine if you are in a hurry.)
I always say Cuquita is a national treasure- more than any other chef she has shown the world how unique and exquisite Panamanian cuisine can be.
With the Buenaventura Bristol Hotel opening in February on the Pacific Coast near Panama City , this same great Cuquita cuisine will now also be available at the beach.
Which are your favorite restaurants and why?
Nancy Hanna, President and Founder of Panamainfo.com and The Panama Planner