Chèvre: The Last Supper
December 14th, 2020
Rumors and tension were bubbling in the streets. You could feel it in the air, as thick as the humidity. You could hear it in the hushed voices as people stared at their phones in disbelief, sharing the unofficial news from unofficial sources. I was in a meeting with Chef Luis Artigas from Salsipuedes at the Bristol when he confirmed my fears.
"Nawebonada..." he muttered under his breath as he looked at his phone. It was happening again: another lockdown. The final nail in the coffin for 2020. MINSA was going to make the official announcement the next day. They wanted to be clear that all rumors were false until they officially confirmed them to be, in fact, true.
I walked home in a daze, making mental lists of everything I was going to need. I needed eggs. I needed to bulk-buy alcohol in case they announced another ley seca. I needed to renew my passport. I needed to get out of here. By the time I got home, I was frantic.
"Baby, this is it!" My voice shook as I grabbed Vicmar by the hand. "We need to go out to the best restaurant we can think of. Where is the one place you want to eat? This could be the last supper!"
Chèvre is my white whale. It has been at the top of every list of restaurants scribbled in my notebook this year: Restaurants for Date Night, Restaurants to Write About, Top 5 Most Innovative Restaurants in Panamá (Yes, I have a thing with lists.) Chèvre boasts the largest collection of imported cheeses in Central America, a fromagerie curated by Master Cheesemonger Lee Salas, who opened the Eataly NYC Flatiron location, as well as The Cheese Córner in Peru, and Boho Market in Bogotá. The owner and serial restaurateur, Mario Naar, is legendary in PTY for his wildly successful restaurants Salvaje, Wingstop, and Wok & Rock. His latest creation, Chèvre, is poised to take the world by storm, with a new location opening in Miami in 2021. I had been waiting for the right moment to dine there, and had finally arrived at the last possible moment. If we were going back into lockdown, I was determined to enjoy my last night of freedom with a bottle of wine and the best food I could find.
Out on the terrace, in the open air, the tension of the city disappeared like magic. It was as if we had stepped into an urban oasis, sheltered from the chaos outside. Restaurants are places filled with life, with energy and vitality. Do you remember the sound from a full restaurant? It's a sound that we don't get to hear anymore: the buzz and chatter, the clinking of plates. Restaurants have been so quiet at dinner time this year, in a way that constantly reminds you that curfew is coming sooner than you think. However, I was determined to enjoy every minute that we had left. It was a quiet night on the terrace, but that restaurant energy was still alive at Chèvre. We felt safe and cared for, and special, like our happiness was the most important thing that night. It felt like the home of an old friend- a friend who cooks the most spectacular food!
I think appetizers might be the most important part of a meal, and round one at Chèvre was outstanding: fresh oysters, and cronuts filled with brie and truffle honey. This is the only restaurant in PTY where I have been able to find oysters; and as a boy from Boston, that means a lot to me. And the cronuts were crispy, fluffy, cheesy little puffs of perfection. Round two: The Raclette Burger stole the show, but the fried pulpo served with sweet potato purée stole my heart.
Round three was the most exciting round of all. In partnership with The Macallan, Chèvre hosts one of the largest and most exclusive collections of Macallan Scotch Whisky in Central America. We felt like Scottish royalty as the bartender brought out all of these treasured whiskys for us to inspect, each in their own uniquely designed, and difficult-to-carry boxes. The Edition No. 5 with its Pantone Color Institute-approved shade of purple (which I think does more to illustrate how strange the Pantone Color Institute is than to highlight the complexity of the whisky.) The $4,000 bottle of Macallan No. 6, representing the 6 pillars of making the world's most expensive Scotch. And finally, the Holy Grail of Scotch Whisky, weighing in at $7,900 per bottle, The Macallan M, part of the Masters Decanter Series.
Between the three of us, we tasted the two cheapest whiskys on the list because, let's be honest, we are not Scottish royalty. Fundamentally, people don't go to restaurants for the food or the whisky, but for the priceless experience and lasting memories. The best part of the whole Macallan Experience was how excited the bartender, and Will, our server, were to show us their vast collection. They were enjoying the show as much as we were. Will the Waiter also works as Will the Illusionist (on instagram as @ilusionistawill, and as far as I can tell, one of the best magicians in Panamá.) After the whisky show, when our powers of perception were more susceptible to sleight-of-hand, Ilusionista Will appeared at the table with a deck of cards to amaze us with his magical powers.
And just like that, the stress of entering the second lockdown disappeared. We went to Chèvre looking for the perfect end to a stressful year. We had no way of knowing that the second lockdown would stretch into the middle of January 2021, but for a brief moment before going into hibernation, we had joy and laughter, and most importantly, we had Chèvre.