There is a Peruvian restaurant in Seville, Spain that has surprisingly become one of my favorite places: La Dama Juana. It is a small, family owned restaurant that brakes all the rules of dinning out. It is the kind of place were you seat yourself, help yourself to the adjacent table’s unused menus, and walk yourself to the bar if you want to speak to the waiter. The furnishings inside are the remnants of the previous restaurant, so have nothing to do with Peruvian anything.
The terrace is more like someone’s backyard; someone who did not have the time to tidy up. Chairs and tables do not match neither do any of the cutlery or plates. I’m not talking about the intentional, too-cool-for-school hipster way many trendy cafes are doing. I’m talking about my fork is different from everyone else’s because they ran out of that design. Nothing matches because a total of zero euros was spent on decor. On the walls in the backyard hang old tires filled with dirt and plants. A kid’s bike and pool could be seen peeking through a tarp in the distance.
Usually it takes the waiter/bartender/kitchen helper 10 minutes to come to our table and give us menus. But by then we have already scavenged them from other tables. Drink orders are taken, sometimes forgotten and taken again a few minutes later. Sometimes your bartender is also your waiter. Sometimes the kitchen staff comes out and serves you. But my all-time favorite is when the restaurant is extremely busy and simultaneously extremely understaffed, the waiter calls your name on the speaks to pick up your order. The real questions is why they have a sound system if the restaurant is tiny, but I guess one must take advantage of what is present.
Sometimes your Causa is plated on a round flat plate with a lot of decorations, sometimes it comes out in a rectangular plate with minimal decoration. Sometimes your fried chicken platter has 3 pieces, sometimes it’s 4. When its time to pay and the waiter is nowhere to be found, he can be located at the bar watching a soccer game with the kitchen staff. This restaurant might not pay much attention to details, and doesn’t seem to be aiming for a Michelin star when it comes to service, but the food is really good. It tastes like a Peruvian grandmother made it for her grandchildren, and for a brief moment you are one of them.
Typically this would be a nasty entry in Yelp or TripAdvisor with a low star rating. But I am here to say that we need more family owned restaurants that make up the rules as they go along. By letting go a little of the strict rules we have and simply focussing on the food, we might have better food experiences.
Who says your chef can’t cook you the meal and serve it to you one day and have you come to the bar to pick it up another day? Who says the restaurant staff can’t hang out to watch a game on TV? Who says that your dining experience can take 20 minutes or 2 hours, depending on the day? Ok I admit you can’t go there if you are in a hurry or expecting a certain dish because they unapologetically run out of random things at random times. But the uncertainty is what makes it exciting and fun. It is like playing restaurant lottery, sometimes you are a big winner. Supporting these type of establishments gives a chance to a family that has delicious recipes but little restaurant management knowledge. I give Dama Juana five stars and three thumbs up.
La Dama Juana does not have a website (of course they don’t) so here is the address