OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF URUGUAY’S ESTANCIAS, A JEWEL BOX

El Garzon | Garzon, Uruguay

(Garzon, Uruguay) — About 40 or so miles inland from the surf of Jose Ignacio is a sleepy little town called Garzon.  There, in the middle of gaucho country and home to Uruguay’s famous grass-fed beef, Francis Mallmann (my favorite restauranteur in the world) has created a true destination place, El Garzon. I first ate at his famous restaurant Los Negros in Jose Ignacio several years ago and was immediately hit over the head with his incomprable design style, intense focus on every detail and his complete dedication to cooking with fire. Los Negros was built around a horno, a large clay oven, where nearly everything was cooked around the high temperature wood fire.

He has since closed Los Negros, but I’ve sought out his other restaurants, including Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires — in fact, on a recent trip to Salta, I had a five hour layover in Buenos Aires and hired a driver just to go have lunch at Patagonia Sur. As a perfect example of hospitality, I didn’t realize they weren’t open for lunch. “Well, you made a reservation, so we accommodated that and opened” said the waiter. So it was just me and him, having the beautiful restaurant all to myself. (see my other posts about that incredible place)

Over the last several years Francis bought up several buildings in Garzon and created a magical restaurant that people drive from all over to visit. There are also about five incredible rooms there, precious gems carved out of a courtyard built around a quiet pool. It’s not really a hotel, per se, more like staying in someone’s house. (Albeit, a really nice house.) When you check in, you walk into the restaurant and a waiter will simply hand you the keys. There’s no front desk, there are no tabs to sign; when you need something, you just ask any of the attractive people flitting about the place day and night. Everything is included, breakfast, lunch, drinks. When I was up early taking pictures out front, Francis was in his bathrobe on the front porch, having breakfast in the warm morning sun. “Do you want to to go for a ride up to the mountain ridge?  You can take one of our horses over there, and we can pack you a nice lunch. Don’t worry, tt’s all included.”  I still kick myself that I had to leave for my flight out of Montevideo. Note to self: next time, book more time in Garzon.

Francis’ fame is built around cooking with fire. He’s the master. (Here’s a great story about Francis and his cook book, Seven Fires)  The specially-made grills in the glassed-off kitchen are designed to cook the meet on two sides at once — in an infiernillo (little hell, literally).  His design style is about as perfect as it gets to me, using natural materials, subtle colors…just like his amazing food. You can just go the restaurant, but book a room…and some extra time…to truly enjoy the full Mallmann experience. This is in the Top Five for me.  Here’s a great recent article on the town of Garzon in the NYTimes.

Getting to Garzon is half the fun, scooting through miles of country roads through the estancias, cows and trees.

Uruguay has some of the most beautiful farm and ranch land I've ever seen. Perfectly maintained, no rusty cars or old tires..

The ranch land is like a flat Tuscany. Millions of trees were planted by a government program years ago and they enhance the landscape...like an art director put them there.

Not much going on in town. The restaurant has brought life to this sleepy little town.

The restaurant, during siesta time.

As a hotel guest, this is your lobby. Whatever you need, round the clock, they'll bring it to you. It's more like staying in someone's home.

From the dining room you can watch all the action take place in the glassed-off kitchen, where they cook all the special meats in a specially-designed grill that cooks both sides at once, between two separate fires, called infiernillo (little hell).

The five rooms all open out onto a perfect courtyard.

I mean, seriously….who thinks "oh there's a nice tree there, let's build a nice black lacquered table around it"?? It's the perfect example of the attention to detail I love in in every one of Francis Mallmann's projects.

Every single detail is well thought-out, even the chess pieces.

The hotel staff is actually the restaurant staff. They just hand you the keys.

The seductive afternoon light and details of the bathrooms make you just want to hang out in there and take a nap on the floor.

The rooms open out onto the surrounding farm land, with sounds of horses, cows and roosters wafting in throughout the day.

The perfect breakfast spot.

Francis' other restaurant in town, which he was about to open up when I was there in December '06.

 

 

Great Wall Street Journal article here.

Here’s his website.

Last visited December 2006

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