AT CASA ALONSO * Visit Casa Alonso´s website by clicking on the logo The restaurant inside Mansión Alcázar Boutique Hotel in Cuenca is Casa Alonso. Its excellent reputation has been earned year by year. It´s a perfect example of how to blend different ingredients that lead to exotic flavors capable of pampering any palate. The ambiance is in line with the style and the customer service is far above expectations. Its setting is striking. Casa Alonso is in the midst of a luxuriant well-kept garden dotted with diverse flowers and shrubs. Hummingbirds dart along the stems and branches while we watch them through the picture windows that surround the restaurant. It feels like an isolated place, indeed rural, yet we are sitting in the middle of Cuenca´s colonial downtown, in the patio of an old mansion that was restored in order to create this magnificent boutique hotel. Buffet breakfast, daily from 7 to 10 a.m., is served in an informal atmosphere that suits all tastes, from sneaker clad tourists with cameras hanging from their shoulders to businessmen in elegant suits and ties to local citizens taking advantage of the best breakfast in town. Lunch is served from 12:30 to 3 p.m. A lengthy selection of aperitifs caters to the imagination of the customers. Natural juices from seasonal fruits are a great choice for a healthy drink. Lunch can be a light repast or an elaborate luncheon but, in all cases, dishes are prepared according to each customer´s requests. Casa Alonso is best known for its traditional dishes, yet its international cuisine is also outstanding. Everything is prepared with fresh ingredients, meticulously chosen to render flavor and fragrance to all meals. Each dish is decorated so that it looks like a work of art that must, sadly, be destroyed. In this environment, all our senses are stimulated and our appetite is stirred. At dusk we move to the outdoors café. Sitting at one of the garden tables, we can sip coffee, tea or hot chocolate while munching on a snack or some sweets. Dinner is altogether a different story. Casa Alonso dresses up to candlelight from delicate lamps placed on each table. The ambiance feels formal in a suitably elegant setting. Impeccably well-set china and silverware signal to guests that they are about to experience a world of new flavors and tastes. A first glance at the menu creates difficult dilemmas as we scan through the varied offerings, each one with an appetizing name and description. Traditional Cuenca cuisine is transformed thanks to Casa Alonso´s innovative preparation and presentation. The well-lit garden is spectacular, the perfect backdrop for an exquisite meal enhanced by extraordinary service. Naturally, we heed the chef´s recommendations and then seek the proper wine for our dishes. Music graces the dining room, at that proper volume that does not intrude upon our conversation. Casa Alonso is the leading restaurant in Cuenca for its high cuisine and excellent service. So, it´s not surprising that Casa Alonso is preferred by tourists, foreign and Ecuadorean, as well as by cuencanos who often dine here. It´s excellent reputation is well earned. Mansión Alcázar Boutique Hotel is one of the select Luxury Destinations Ecuador, chosen by this Condé Nast affiliate. This rating conveys a very high level of exclusivity and sophistication in lodging plus excellence in cuisine, in an environment of stately old buildings upgraded with modern facilities and unparalleled service. Casa Alonso is a gourmet restaurant that creates a desire to return time and again. An attempt to describe its most popular dishes falls short when photos, such as those in this article, show the readers what we are talking about.