GRANADA – In what is said to be the oldest colonial house in the oldest colonial city in the continental Americas, a 28-year-old French-Dutchman and his girlfriend are serving up filet de mignon de porc and fine wine.
“I’ve never seen such a romantic place,” said Fédéric Bastemeÿer, manager of Jardín de Orion (Orion’s Garden), the new French restaurant that opened last week in Granada.
The youthful couple is bringing French cuisine and strong coffee to this newly remodeled garden-patio sanctuary of colonial heritage.
The restaurant is located in the famous Casa El Recodo, on Calle Palenque; it is one of the few houses that survived U.S. filibuster William Walker’s torching of the city in 1865.
In more recent years, the home was used as an art gallery by the Sandinista Ministry of Culture in the 1980s, and served as a movie set for a handful of films, including the 1987 movie “Walker,” starring Ed Harris.
The United Nations, Organization of American States and Nicaraguan government all recognize the home as an historic site. And the walls – decorated with sculptures honoring Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba’s founding of Granada and poems lamenting the city’s history of bloodshed – pay testament to the story that has made this house famous.
The restaurant is now the third business located in Casa El Recodo, along with a souvenir shop and an art gallery.
The couple named their restaurant after the Western myth of a giant blinded hunter, who is still immortalized by the popular constellation that the well-traveled Bastemeÿer used to revel at while bathing off the shores of Madagascar.
Bastemeÿer has elaborated on the Orion myth to explain the origins of his restaurant.
He says the rock at the restaurant’s entrance was thrown down from the skies by Orion, who wanted the place to be his garden on Earth, hence the name.
The young enterprising globetrotter, who studied the hospitality business in Holland and worked at Disneyland Resort Paris –where he met girlfriend Delphine Boulan – says even Europe’s decadent magnificence has nothing on Granada.
“I never realized any magic over there,” he said, exhaling cigarette smoke in the rays of sun that cut through the Guyaba and almond trees that rustle in the patio breeze.
“But there’s magic here, and it’s real.”
And unlike the invented stories of pirates and colorful villains told to young tourists at Euro Disney, in Granada that history is true, he said.
Bastemeÿer, who now lives in part of the home that was once a storage room, moved to Nicaragua to be closer to his parents, who live in Managua. His mother’s crafty paintings of Nicaraguan churches line the restaurant’s adobe walls, and are for sale.
The building’s Granadina administrator, Irene Arévalo Guerrero, said the restaurant is a savory addition to the ancient home’s repertoire.
“It’s offering the option of a good restaurant with good food and nice people in a great location,” she said, as she sipped an espresso with a friend on the restaurant’s patio.
Nearby, local artist Francisco Espinoza sat at one of the tile-topped tables (hand-made by the couple and Bastemeÿer’s mom) and sketched the patio of what Guerrero claims is Granada’s most painted and photographed home; moments later, a group of tourists filed out of a horse-drawn carriage and started snapping photos.
“We sell history and our colonial architecture,” Guerrero said.
Boulan is currently serving as a temporary chef along with the restaurant’s Nicaraguan chef, until a second chef is found to complement the seven-member staff.
Most main dishes are in the $10-12 range, and the menu has an entire page of devilish desserts. Boulan said the food is served fresh – nothing has been frozen – and the coffee is brought in from the skirts of nearby Mombacho Volcano, and served robust and simple.
“Real coffee, real cappuccino. And that’s it,” Bastemeÿer said.“Simple things with real flavor.” Bastemeÿer also invites guests to bring their laptops and use the wireless connection that serves the hammock-spangled patio. A noiseless battery-powered generator supplies power during blackouts. They also have several reserve water tanks to accommodate the water rationings.
“A lot of businesses here don’t guarantee that, but we did,” Bastemeÿer said before running off to attend to clients.
El Jardín de Orión restaurant is open Wednesday to Sunday, from noon-3 p.m., and 6 p.m. -9 p.m. The terrace is open 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. For reservations, call 552-1220.