One of the highlights of staying at Intercontinental Bali Resort in Jimbaran was its proximity to amazing restaurants in both directions. A short stroll along the beach at sunset could bring you to delectable freshly grilled seafood or an array of more refined eateries. I’ve mentioned before how we haven’t had a bad meal in Bali, but when it comes to truly memorable food – Cuca Flavor stood out as our absolute favorite.
The restaurant opened its doors in 2013 and is helmed by Canadian Chef Kevin Cherkas who offers radically different casual dining experience focused entirely on flavor. He strives to bring out the best in the beautiful produce of Indonesia by studying each ingredient, finding out how it is traditionally used to understand its potential and then preparing it using modern western techniques acquired through his culinary career in some of the world’s most outstanding restaurants. In Spain, he honed his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants El Bulli (***), Arzak (***) and La Broche (**), and in New York City at Daniel Boulard’s highly regarded Daniel before calling Asia his new home.
Everything that goes into your dish is carefully selected and locally sourced to maximize freshness, support local farmers and showcase the uniqueness of delicious local products.
Atmosphere at Cuca is laid-back and unpretentious with dimmed lights and upbeat music setting the mood, while the interior is kept understated with concrete walls, simple wooden tables, and draped curtains. Spacious grounds feature garden dining area, cocktail bar, an indoor dining space (where we were seated), and a food bar (where I’ll want to grab a seat next time). You can see all the action in the kitchen through the large glass window, at times the pace seems insane, but after you try the food you see why. Every single bite is scrumptious, packs ton of flavor and make your taste-buds sing. Most importantly, the food here is not only delicious, but inventive as well. Honestly, our dinner was such a success that we almost went back there on our final night to have the same menu again.
Similar to other tapas restaurants, food in Cuca is meant to be shared and comes in small portions so you can try more from three sections: Harvested (vegetables), Hooked (seafood), and Farmed (meat and poultry).
We always like to trust the chef and thus went with our typical choice – the multi-course tasting menu. There is a story behind each dish – the product, memory or sensorial experience that got the chef inspired to create truly unique dishes.
We started with vibrant cocktails and a complimentary amuse-bouche Cotton Betutu which was like a cotton-candy with rich seasoning that melted in my mouth in seconds, delivering punch of flavor.
The tasting menu started with Cuban Corn: sweet and delicate baby corn was grilled to perfection and sprinkled with parmesan, lime and parsley. It was divine.
Next course came in the form of Roasted Pork Buns: the softest pancake bun soaked in sweet sauce hugged shredded honey-glazed BBQ pork. The pickled cabbage and coriander cut through the richness of the meat and balanced the sweetness of the sauce, making it the most heavenly bite of our trip. I loved it so much that I reordered it at the end of our savory courses. It was that good.
Another dish that was a total hit (but then every dish was a hit) was the Smoked Butterfish: beetroot yogurt, zucchini pickles and parsley crumbs serving as a compliment to the butterfish which had luxurious smoky flavor and silky unctuous texture.
We proceed with vibrant salad of honey baked pumpkin salad whose sweetness tasted almost like caramel. I was pleasantly surprised how the presence of tarragon enriched the taste, while creamy green beans and granola provided a nice textural contrast.
For the fifth course, we thoroughly enjoyed BBQ octopus, which came with flavorful Asian gazpacho, fresh apple, caramelized cauliflower and coriander. Octopus was a perfection – beautifully chargrilled and amazingly tender and juicy.
The next course – rice tempura soft shell crab with aioli, BBQ pineapple and curry leaf didn’t quite work for me flavor-wise.
I did love the meat and potatoes dish that followed: marinated Javanese beef short ribs are slowly grilled and folded through a ragout of mushrooms and onions with a magical touch of whipped potatoes and a marmalade of red wine.
We ended the dinner with two desserts. Bali Breakfast incorporated sweet runny mango, frozen passion and whipped coconut to create an explosion of tropical flavors, while Cocoa 99 was a delectable combination of bitter dark chocolate, mint ice-cream and cocoa croutons.
We thoroughly loved our experience at Cuca – the menu features some of the most inspired dishes we’ve had in a while, service was excellent and staff was highly knowledgeable. Food here truly stood out as different (or dare I say, intriguing), delicious and inventive and the one that instills a sense of comfort. I wish I lived closer, because I’d definitely be a regular customer.
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