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Food & Dining in Uruguay

When the season turns toward winter, the rhythm of the week begins softly and crescendos toward the weekend. Dinner on Monday might be as early as 8:30 pm or 9 pm in a nearly private restaurant. Come Friday, even family groups don't materialise until 11 pm when tables are at a premium in popular, casual restaurants such as Don Peperone downtown on Sarandi, (the pedestrian street leading to old town), or at its branch out east in the upscale Carrasco neighbourhood.

Uruguay reflects European traditions in some of its cuisine, as well as influences from neighbouring countries. Like Argentina to the south, Uruguay's parrillas are popular eating places, where meat and seafood are traditionally prepared and served.

Not surprisingly for a capital whose back country is a sea of grazing land with Eucalyptus and palm trees, beef is the key player on most menus. Small neighbourhood spots and more ambitious parrillas use wood fire for grilling the tasty grass-fed beef. Menus list as many as 10 cuts, and a good parrilla chef at a restaurant such as Las Brasas can cook the selected beef to exact specifications. The signature local sandwich, the chivito, consists of a grilled, thin-cut steak on good bread with lettuce, tomato, mayo, egg and cheese. Like a Philly cheese steak, it has its own integrity of taste. The large contingent of Uruguayans of Italian decent ensures the presence of pasta and pizza joints in all neighbourhoods. Tourists not enamoured of red meat or starches will find that fish, fresh vegetable and salad offerings are plentiful as well.

Uruguay has a 250-year-old history of wine production. The predominating local grape is tannat. Not a subtle grape, it has a hard and, as the name suggests, a tannic edge when young. Blending tannat with merlot doesn't help much. Older oak (roble) aged tannats or those blended with cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc show more complexity. Local wineries include Juanico, with a lighter style for current consumption, and Pisano with more structured wines better in older vintages. For beer drinkers, the local beers Pilsen or Zimmerthal served in 0.66 litre bottles complement the local cuisine nicely.

Sales tax on dining in Montevideo is a whopping 23%. There's usually a table cover charge, called the cubierto, as well.





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