La Huella, a Chef's Beach Escape
A beach shack with wooden tables and a thatched roof has become the place for America’s biggest food stars to relax. Gilbert Pilgram, co-owner of San Francisco’s Zuni Café, brought 50 friends, most of them in the food business, to the little town of José Ignacio so they could eat at La Huella. Alice Waters, one of the guests, let loose and joined a conga line down the gorgeous Uruguayan beach after an amazing meal.
José Ignacio is only 20 miles from Punta del Este, where beautiful people from all over South America congregate every summer (December through March). Yet, for North Americans, José Ignacio still feels like an insider’s secret, shared from friend to friend. And it seems like a lot of those friends are chefs and restaurateurs. (Pilgram, for instance, heard of the place from Ignacio Mattos, the chef at Brooklyn, New York’s Isa.) They all go to La Huella, sometimes more than once a day, to hang out.
And to eat. New York Times food writer David Tanis calls La Huella “one of the best seaside restaurants in the world.” Owners Martín Pittaluga and Guzmán Artagaveytia trained with Francis Mallmann, the Argentinean grill master, and many of the dishes at La Huella are cooked over fire. Chef Alejandro Morales describes the ethos simply: “We work with farmers and fishermen. What they have is what we prepare.” For Pilgram’s party, he used superfresh crab from a local lagoon, stuffing the shells with creamy crab salad and flambéing them in a wood-burning oven. To go with it, the owners served a Don Pascual rosé, from Juanicó winery in Uruguay.
Perhaps the best thing about La Huella is its irresistibly social vibe. That conga line, for example, consisted not only of Pilgram’s American friends, but many of the restaurant’s 150 customers as well. “All I need to be happy on vacation is that sense of community,” says Waters, “and the sense that I can eat food that is delicious and pure.”