We sent writer Gabe Ulla to Uruguay with chef Ignacio Mattos of New York City’s Estela. Estela’s beverage director, Thomas Carter, and photographer Marcus Nilsson came along for the ride, too—here, some of our favorite photos and stories from their adventure.
This is about halfway between Montevideo and José Ignacio, when things start getting beachy. It’s one of the biggest cities on the eastern part of Uruguay. It’s quite touristy, but it has its charm in the winter. If you go, check out the old port. —Ignacio Marcus Nilsson The thing that makes a huge difference with grilling in Uruguay is the wood. It’s extraordinary. The way it holds the heat is much more controlled than what I’ve encountered in many other places. It makes for a contained, well-distributed fire that doesn’t die out too quickly and lets the meat cook slowly. – Ignacio Mattos Marcus Nilsson This was the very end of our trip, when it started to register that things were coming to a close and we got a little bit reflective. We also spent hours helping Marcus find the right light. I was with my son, my most beloved friends, in this perfect setting. – Ignacio Marcus Nilsson This was very nostalgic for me. It beckons to the days of backyard barbecuing, when the work station was usually a makeshift cardboard panel. – Thomas Carter Marcus Nilsson This was the main attraction for our beachy lunch in José Ignacio. This hanging technique is used to keep my son from playing around with the fish. It also happens to help dry the skin before grilling. – Ignacio La Caracola was wonderful, but I really didn’t find the boat to be necessary. It’s cute, yes, but I was hoping for something more substantial. – Thomas Marcus Nilsson For that first lunch, a bunch of my old friends came out of the woodwork and helped make everything happen. They made my job easy. This is Gonzalo Zubiri, one of my only childhood friends. He’s now doing some really interesting artisanal bread in the Montevideo. —Ignacio Marcus Nilsson This is about halfway between Montevideo and José Ignacio, when things start getting beachy. It’s one of the biggest cities on the eastern part of Uruguay. It’s quite touristy, but it has its charm in the winter. If you go, check out the old port. —Ignacio Marcus Nilsson This is the Chaja, which is in pretty much every single ‘restaurant’ in Uruguay. You get emotionally attached to it forever, but over time, you realize your palate outgrows it… —Ignacio Marcus Nilsson Everyone pitched in to prep for the lunch we prepared in Jose Ignacio. We made mayo, picked crab meat, and came up with a bunch of things on the fly, with the breeze coming in nonstop, which was a bit of a problem occasionally. Just like old times. – Ignacio Marcus Nilsson This is the Guido Zarate mobile—Guido is a former male model and a great friend. The car spends its summers in Jose Ignacio, and the rest of the year in Buenos Aires. It runs on Malbec. – Ignacio Marcus Nilsson I was running around La Caracola trying to get a feel for things when all of a sudden I noticed that New York powerhouse Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune, had rolled up to join our lunch. She was in town We had no idea. What a pleasant surprise. – Gabe Ulla Marcus Nilsson I can’t imagine a more perfect place for a late lunch than La Caracola. The structure sits on a peninsula, and we had the most beautiful weather. It feels like a massive, airy cabana, with the sea on one side and the green countryside on the other. You could stay there forever. – Ignacio Marcus Nilsson When you eat asado, you can’t serve it with anything too fussy. But you do need something to cut through the meat and fat, and there is nothing better than a simply dressed plate of tomatoes. – Ignacio Marcus Nilsson There is no better way to eat sweetbreads than this: with lemon, salt, and bread. And chimichurri, of course, is a must. It’s pure and efficient, an Uruguayan birthright. – Ignacio Marcus Nilsson Our car ride was transformative, in that you’re in this huge American car in the woods in Uruguay and so disconnected from the way things are at home. All that said: The backseat wasn’t as roomy as I had hoped for. – Thomas Marcus Nilsson