A Bali restaurant worthy of note and not to be missed on any trip is the Cuca Restaurant tucked away on a quiet roadside heading to the ocean’s edge in the Jimbaran Beach area.
Cuca is a thoroughly modern venue that emphasizes natural light through its floor-to-ceiling windows and a tastefully minimalistic interior design.
The restaurant can accommodate large groups in air-conditioned comfort or in inspiring gardens set beneath old-growth trees. Polite young attendants greet visitors in a foreyard designed for vehicle drop-offs and personally escort diners through well-kept gardens and past fish ponds. As they go, visitors are offered a choice of al fresco dining in the gardens, a raised “ring-side seat” overlooking an amazingly talented kitchen brigade, the private group dining room, or the main dining room.
Safe by Design
By design, Cuca’s interior space has high ceilings and, because of the venue’s size, provides generous spacing between guests. Retractable curtains in place from the restaurant’s inception to allow added privacy between tables, now also enhance dining demands in the “new normal” by providing additional “breathing room” and an additional security barrier between any adjoining table of diners.
Beyond its welcoming ambiance, the ultimate and undeniable attraction of Cuca remains its outstanding food and impeccable service. Here is a restaurant for committed “grazers” who come to leisurely discover and be awed by new taste sensations as they while away the hours with fellow friends and family. Accordingly, the menu is composed entirely of artistically presented course after course of incomparable food augmented by the informative explanations of attentive waiters and waitresses detailing both the ingredients and preparation method. Whether you choose to label these delectable dishes as “tapas” or “amuse-bouches,” the service staff urge each diner to try at least three courses that are meant, by design, to be shared. Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring amy well-intended recommendation, we lost count and consumed far more than the recommended trio of courses.
Edith Piaff said it best: “Non je ne regrette rien?”
Dining with a friend, we voiced our “oohs and ahs” through a great many courses that included:
- Cotton Betutu – Delivered to the table with the chef’s compliments is a dish that gives fair warning that what lies ahead will be unlike anything experienced in the past: A small “ball‘ of still-warm cotton candy infused with Betutu spicing that is customarily reserved for the quintessential Balinese dishes of Ayam or Bebek betutu. Gone in a flash as it literally melts in your mouth – Cotton Betutu heralds a world of culinary wonder that lies just ahead.
- Broccoli Caesar – charred granules of broccoli sitting atop a whipped, creamy coconut concoction and anchovy crumble that, when combined, manages to evoke a taste reminiscent of light Caesar Salad. Hail! Caesar! Vini, Vidi, Vici – we surrendered without a struggle to this opening course that breaks new culinary ground like almost everything served at Cuca.
- Smoked Butterfish – thin slices of lightly-smoked Butterfish – known locally as Gindara or “White Tuna,” are layered in small standing towers best approached with chops sticks that allow easy lathering in accompanying pools of beetroot yogurt, pickled zucchini, and parsley crumbs.
- Rice Tempura Soft Shell Crabs –prepared with shaved fresh pineapple, garlic aioli, and curry leaf combine over delicate shells that can be devoured in their entirety. The “secret” of soft-shell crabs is that they are harvested before they manage to grow a “new” hard shells making the crabs 100% edible without the fight and mess of their “hardened” brethren.
- BBQ Octopus – Beautifully tender slices of baby octopus “swimming” in a thin pool of Asian gazpacho partnered with thin slices of fresh apples, caramelized cauliflower, and coriander.
- Black Squid “Risotto”: Resembling risotto in texture and taste, popped rice supplants the role usually played by Italian rice. Hand-cut squid pieces are cooked to perfection in a vegetable “stew” with an added “pizzazz” supplied by garlic cream. The crowning touch to this dish, however, is the distinct flavor imparted by squid ink.
- Roasted Pork Buns – This dish has almost a cult following, particularly among Asian diners at Cuca. Delicate soft pancakes embrace bbq pork bathed in a sweet sauce — definitely a signature dish to be included on each visit to Cuca.
- Mushroom Fritters – Button mushrooms are initially disassembled and reconstituted with pickled and melted cheese. These mushrooms are tenderly reassembled, presented as if growing in a field of fresh green herbal grass, awaiting harvesting by eager supplicants.
- Bali Breakfast – On initial inspection, this dish resembles the yolk of an egg or a large yellow “eye” looking back at you. Warning: Prepare to be surprised by the explosion of new taste sensations resulting from the deceptive “yolk” of sweet runny mango combined with frozen passion fruit encircled by a white coconut creaminess.
Each course at Cuca reflects the restaurant’s co-creators’ culinary sojourn, Canadian Chef Kevin Cherkas, who honed his skills earned at three-star Michelin restaurants in Spain and New York. Later, he picked up an undeniable Asian flair during Shangri-La Hotels assignments in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Kevin’s co-creator, and partner in life and business is his Spanish wife, Virginia Entizne, who hails from Salamanca. Holding advanced degrees in linguistics and business management – her energy and project management skills form the perfect complement to her husband’s kitchen genius and Cuca’s success.
Everything Cuca touches is magic. This magicality includes an innovative cocktail list with all items also available in a non-alcoholic mocktail version. Opting for the alcoholic strand, we lost track and count after several rounds of “Tokyo Mojito” made from fresh citrus juices, rum, soda, and lemon basil. As the meal progressed, we also enjoyed Cuca’s “Sun-gria” – a take on red sangria was delicious and served over frozen cubes of fruit juices.
Cuca also boasts an excellent wine list.
Pre-pandemic seating, now trimmed to conform to Provincial health protocols, accommodated 250 for cocktails or canapés in dramatically-lit garden, 160 in the main dining room, or 40-person private dining room.
At a Loss for Words
While we could say “more” about Bali’s Cuca Restaurant, but based on our last visit, we simply prefer to say “more, please.“