Roundup of the last few meals in Bogotá, leaving out the breakfasts, which didn’t change significantly from my previous posts, a couple of dinners in the hotel when someone just refused to budge from it, and our one day trip to Caño Cristales, which I’ll cover in a post all its own.
A solo lunch at Mini-Mal, which specializes in a more Caribbean style Colombian cuisine – I suppose I should have stuck with places that focus on this and surrounding regions, since we’re off to Cartagena next, but I’d heard really great things about this place. It’s as oddly designed as its website (linked above), an old house with tables placed in semi-random configurations in different rooms, there’s a room that’s a store, too, selling non-food related stuff. Interesting sounding menu, I more or less left the choices up to my waiter, just specifying I wanted some picante thrown in there, and keeping it on the seafood side of things. Delicious little crab and plantain fritters called tumacos, with a mildly spicy coconut sauce and some extra picante sauce on the side. A main course of tigres colorados, tiger prawns in an intense achiote batter, served up with a salad of lettuces, uchuvas (Peruvian groundcherries), and a mayo made with the tangy juice of the cherries and some kind of chili that I didn’t catch, served up with coconut rice. All delicious, maybe a touch sweeter than I usually go for, but hey, it’s Caribbean cuisine. Washed down with a Bogotá Beer Company Monserrate Roja beer, great, lightly bitter flavor that complemented the meal.
Okay, is there anything there that doesn’t look just amazingly delicious? A visit, on the recommendation of new chef friend Jorge, to Tábula, just a couple of blocks from Leo, where we ate the first night – this little neighborhood, just to the north of the Museo Nacional, is a hotbed of small, creative restaurants – if we had more time in Bogotá I could see spending a huge amount of time exploring it. Huge space, kind of like a giant cube, with ceilings as high as the room is wide. Semi-open kitchen at one end. “Modern rustic”, perhaps, would be the way to designate the style? The food, focused on perfectly prepared, absolutely spot-on ingredients. Chef Tomás Rueda (who also appeared on the Colombia episode of Bourdain’s show I mentioned the other day, visiting the market I featured in my last post with him) is turning out what has to amount to a slightly highbrow version of Colombian comfort food, the kind of stuff that I love. From the top, a view into the kitchen. Crispy fried cubes of spice marinated yuca done up more or less papas bravas style. Beautiful, rich yellow potatoes that have been roasted, smoked, and served up with herb butter. A mixed salad of lettuces, avocado, tangy marinated tomatoes, and crisps of queso paipa, which seems to be Colombia’s national cheese. And, the piece de resistance, falling off the bone, unctuous, deeply flavored, spicy oxtail. Way too much food, way too good. In a completely different style and experience, vies with Leo for our best meal of the trip so far.
Now, we thought we were done with Bogotá, and headed off on Thursday very early to Caño Cristales, about which, more, later, and why we ended up back in Bogotá for one more day. We headed back to the small artesanal fair we’d discovered on our first morning’s walk (which, yes, I know, I haven’t talked about the sightseeing stuff yet – that’s the next post), to pick up a couple of things that Henry wanted for family members, and have lunch at one of the little traditional holes-in-the-wall that line the pedestrian walkway where the fair is. More or less at random we settled on a spot called Mango Charanga, which turned out to specialize in, not local cuisine, but that of the area around Valle del Cauco, just north of Cali, towards the west coast of Colombia. Two story space, converted house, a bit “cozy” – i.e., tables packed really tightly together, and very small, we could barely fit two plates on our table at the same time. Ordered up two luladas, which we expected from the description to be like lemonade but made with lulo, the ubiquitous Colombian fruit also known as naranjilla in other places. But it was more like a thick pulp of the cooked fruit in a bit of juice, all chilled – I loved it, Henry hated it, so I drank his and he ordered a limonada. Once again, too much food, the menu doesn’t say, but at least the appetizers turned out to be portions to share – Henry ordered the native papitas criollas, just simply cooked tiny mountain potatoes tossed with some spices and butter, I had empanadas vallunas filled with shredded beef, egg, and potato in a yuca dough, spritzed with lime, and plenty of hot sauce. For his main course, he ordered a sancocho, which was described as “a yuca and plantain soup with chicken” – we were more or less figuring on the bowl of soup as being “it”, but turns out that the soup is just the yuca and plantain part (thick, rich, a great lunch on its own), and the “with chicken” is an entirely separate plate with a whole chicken breast (or leg/thigh quarter), rice, avocado, and a patacón (fried, flattened plantain). I left my main course up to the waitress, asked her to bring me her favorite plate, and she brought me the carne planchada a la negra nieves, which basically means grilled steak “black snows” style (what is it with strangely colored snows in the Andes – we went through this with the vivid green “nieve andina” (Andean snow) sauce in Peru). A somewhat chewy, though really flavorful steak, the sauce seemed to basically be a pretty straightforward thickened brown gravy, but had a good hit of sweetness to it – took me a minute, and then I realized it was ketchup (I asked on our way out, it was), on the side, a plate of rice and avocado, lettuce, cucumber and corn salad. Good, though her favorite dish and mine would probably be very different. Still, a good, and very filling meal. A dish I can’t find any info about online (though and the only “negra nieves” related to Colombia I can find online is a two year old funk music group, and there’s a glacier by the name in Chile, a long way away), so it could just be a name they made up at this restaurant, though she’d asserted it was very traditional of comida valluna.
Last eve we headed back to Central Cevicheria – nothing against it, but it was our third choice – Tábula and Leo were both closed for dinner (on a Friday evening!) because yesterday was a national holiday (the reason the artisans fair was even running yesterday). Disappointing, as we really wanted to sample either more food at the former, since we’d basically just split one main course with some side dishes, or do the full tasting menu at the latter. Still, a great meal, lots of fun, I didn’t take pictures, we just relaxed. We’re off to Cartagena in a short while, and just based on timing, lunch will probably be something really quick like a sandwich near to the hotel, or in the airport. More coming soon from the Caribbean coast!