I realize that there’s an impetus to take advantage of an included breakfast in a hotel, and of course, breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal and all that, but I’m just not used to eating it. Normally, a cup of coffee, maybe a yogurt or fruit. Maybe. But, fruit, yogurt, juice, coffee, cheese and meat started the day. We are doing a lot of walking, particularly in the early part of each day, so it’s probably not a bad idea.
Recommended by our new chef friends for a real, authentic experience, the going on two century old La Puerta Falsa just off the city’s main plaza. There’s a great writeup on its history here on Bogota Foodie, a blog I wish I’d found before coming here. And, apparently, this was one of the spots that Anthony Bourdain visited and ate a tamale or something during his Colombia Parts Unknown – I don’t recall it, all I remember is him increasingly desperately prattling on about the search for info on his long lost grandfather who had disappeared somewhere in Colombia a generation ago, mostly while sitting on a boat, drinking beer.
It’s a good tamale. It’s plump. It’s a mix of corn and milled corn and, according to some folk who’ve written about it, filled out with a bit of rice. It’s got a chicken leg on the bone filling up a good portion of that plump. It’s good. I’ve had better. Hot sauce might have been a good addition, but the lurid red gel in a squirt bottle, resembling a cheap chinese restaurant duck sauce, had about as much kick as sweet paprika.
Arguably, ajiaco is Colombia’s national dish, or at least national soup, and this was a very good one, packed with chicken and potatoes, a nice ear of corn, and accompanied by avocado, rice, capers, and sour cream. Again, something spicy would have been nice, but this we finished down to the last drop.
And, we tried changua, which has to be one of the odder things I’ve eaten that doesn’t make use of odd ingredients. I’ve mostly read about it as a breakfast soup, and I can see that – basically, it’s a milk broth in which are deposited torn shards of bread, a couple of eggs that are poached more or less through, some cheese, and lots of parsley. As a breakfast, I could see it. Definitely needed seasoning.
Overall, a nice run at a trio of traditional local dishes (and encompassing most of the short menu), all good, nothing wow, really inexpensive – these three dishes, which were one more than we really needed, two bottles of water, tax and tip, 35,000 pesos, or $12.
Now, dinner was another story. Touted as one of Bogotá’s best fine dining restaurants, with impeccable world class service, a prestigious chef, graduate of one of the world’s top culinary schools, trained in some of the world’s top restaurants, and focusing on modern takes on the use of traditional local ingredients, we were all prepped for another experience like our delightful first night out here at Leo Cocina y Cava.
It was not to be. The room is pretty if a bit staid, even the waterfall garden felt a bit stuffy, and all very quiet, like no one wanted to talk much above a whisper. The waiters are stiff and abrupt, and for whatever reason, given how small the restaurant is, they’re all plugged in with headsets, though I never saw one of them talking into one. They also gave me an English menu, while Henry got a Spanish one, and even when I requested a Spanish one, they actually flat out refused until I insisted, and then gave it to me very grudgingly. We hadn’t spoken a word of anything but Spanish to anyone.
The chef turns out to be a graduate of the Cordon Bleu school… in Peru. And his vast top level experience seems to be a hotel restaurant in the Dominican Republic and a restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by a brief stint at a two Michelin star restaurant in Italy. And the amazing sounding menu of updated, modern dishes using ingredients like yuca, various local chilies, and wild lettuces from the region, seems to have been replaced by a vaguely Mediterranean and Middle Eastern menu that looks like something we might have seen in NYC in the late 80s.
Even so, that might have been fine had it all been done well. A dense, tasteless ball of lentils touted as a falafel, a warm salmon tartare, and a little crisp with some sort of cream on it that the waiter wasn’t sure what it was, were all pretty ho-hum. Bread, a sweet whole wheat bread and a couple of squares of decent flatbread, was served with a babaganoush that was basically just a puree of overly smoked eggplant with no salt, no spices, and no lemon.
Chilean empanadas filled with slow cooked shortrib and way too many Kalamata olives (why not a local olive? why Chilean empanadas instead of Colombian?) were passable, though the chopped tomatoes and onions in a bowl do not constitute Chilean pebre, which should be onions, garlic, cilantro, chilies, vinegar and olive oil, and is typically a vivid green color.
I’m not sure what it takes to cook sweetbreads browned on the outside, nearly raw on the inside, and kind of rubbery all the way through, but they managed. The baby artichokes were nice, the pickled shallots too, the “basil emulsion” was pure white, and had no flavor of basil, so not sure what it was, and the whole thing liberally covered in toasted almonds and torn bits of parsley.
The “arroz matiz”, which has no description on the menu, sounded more or less like a Peruvian arroz con mariscos when we asked, but turned out to be a gluggy, Chinese style fried rice with a few prawns in it, and way too much soy sauce, something vaguely sweet lurking in there, a ton of chopped chives, and a few cubes of avocado on top.
And my spiny lobster tail was as hard as a superball, you could have bounced it across the room, and they’d halfway peeled it out of the shell and then either torched the side that normally is in contact with the shell or pressed it on a flatop grill, to give it a slightly charred flavor that just tasted burnt (it says “grilled with Maldon salt” on the menu. The caramelized carrot ravioli themselves were quite good, though again accompanied by a whole lot of toasted almonds, and no evidence in the flavors on the plate of the promised ginger, lemongrass and pickled lime sauce – it tasted like plain butter, with more chives.
So, on pretty much every front, a disappointment, from the wholesale change of the menu (and not just a seasonal change of dishes, but the entire style of food) in contrast to what’s posted on their website (if you’re going to put a detailed menu on your website it should be up-to-date), to the lack of flavors in the dishes, the execution of the cooking, to the nose in the air service. I fired off a text message to our new chef friend, who’s response was pretty much… yeah, not a place I’d have recommended. Oops, should have asked. With a bottle of Trimbach Gewurztraminer, and a tip, a more or less wasted 281,000 pesos, or $97.