If you’re looking for an exceptional dining experience, Le Petit Jardin is a little gem of a place that first opened for business in May 2015. Located on the outskirts of Cuenca in a place called San Miguel de Sayausi, Le Petit Jardin is nestled among lush trees and grass in a country atmosphere. Owner and chef Giovanni Cambizaca, 37, co-owns the restaurant with his wife and brother. The brothers built the restaurant and all the furniture and created the artistic decor. This labor of love took 2 years.
Giovanni has created a warm, cozy ambience with tables in different rooms, all close to fireplaces which are most welcome when it gets a little chilly in Cuenca. As you step into the bar and restaurant, you are embraced by this smiling, energetic host who likes to personally get to know ALL his customers. “Me gusta saber los nombres de todo mis visitantes,” he says. Yes, even their names!
Giovanni says his returning customer is one who can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or an entire meal. He doesn’t seem so concerned about whether you spend a little or a lot…but that you come, maybe bring your family, and enjoy time together. And whether coming or going…heartfelt embraces always seem to be part of the culinary experience.
So how did it all evolve? Giovanni was born in the province of Morona Santiago, in the town of Limón in the Ecuadorian jungle. The family had a tomato plantation and the children all worked on the farm. One day Giovanni hurt his leg in an accident and his father told him that, while he was recuperating, he had to cook and clean in the family home — he was thrilled! He learned to cook at the age of 9 or 10 by watching his mother and loved the process, so for the month that he was healing, he cooked up a storm!
Years later, from 2010-2013, he would hone his culinary skills at a French restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, called Petit Louis Bistro. And it was actually a young French woman who would eventually propose the name Le Petit Jardin for his own restaurant.
Does he have a signature dish? “My favorite dish is duck confit” — called pato confitado in Spanish — says Giovanni. Duck can be dry so how does he keep it moist? “I cook it in fat for 7 hours with a lot of garlic, shallots, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.” He notes the flavors have plenty of time to combine for the best results.
Americans Janice and Philip Ruffolo enjoy dining at Le Petit Jardin. Janice, who loves to prepare healthy dishes at home, says Giovanni always buys quality ingredients. “He uses freshly harvested, organic vegetables and herbs, quality virgin olive oil and sea salt.” And there’s something else she enjoys: “He provides a comfortable, homey atmosphere with a seasonal menu to rival fine, French country cuisine.” Philip thinks Le Petit Jardin has the best food in Cuenca and appreciates other qualities — “the rustic setting and atmosphere, the wonderful selection of music, and the beautiful energy and creativity are truly inspirational.”
Giovanni prides himself on selecting only the best and freshest food. “I have farmers who guarantee that the meat is of really good quality. Often I buy chicken from the mercado and sometimes I get fish, such as tilapia, from the jungle.” He enjoys the fusion of fresh organic products with old world French techniques.
And he is quick to acknowledge the influence another woman has had on his craft. An area of the restaurant is named after his maternal grandmother, Leticia, who grew and harvested potatoes and plantains. “I wanted a rustic place where people can come and enjoy one another, eat my culinary preparations, and go home happy.”
His wife, Maria Elisa, is a partner in life and in the restaurant. “When I was building the place, she worked as a cosmetologist to support the whole family.” The couple has three children, Kelly, 18, Joel, 15 and David, 11.
Le Petit Jardin is open ONLY on Saturdays and Sundays. Giovanni says from Monday through Thursday he does things for the restaurant like painting, planting flowers, making new furniture, all while thinking up new ideas for the menu. This way he can also spend time with his family and make furniture for other people. He starts to prep on Fridays.
So what does Giovanni Cambizaca want people to know about Le Petit Jardin? “People should know that this place has special energy. It has a little garden where children can play. You are in Cuenca, but it feels like you’re outside the city. There is less pollution, you are surrounded by nature, by her trees and the songs of birds.”
Le Petit Jardin is located on a street known as San Miguel de Putushi. Getting there might be the biggest challenge. It’s open for lunch, dinner, coffee and drinks on Saturdays and Sundays, 12:00pm-9:00pm. Cash only. You can call Giovanni to make reservations and for a bit of guidance with directions at 07-418-9466.