Do you have a favorite street? One that you love to walk down, where you take time sit on a bench and look at the trees and admire the gardens and the ivy-covered houses? It can create a peaceful moment that takes you away from the big-city traffic.
I have a street like that. I can always find a good excuse to walk down it. When I’m nearby checking out new coffee shops or restaurants I’ll go out of my way to head down that street and get the feeling I’ve escaped to a small town outside Bogota.
So when a restaurant opens up on my favorite street, I pay attention.
We always seem to have the desire to celebrate those in our community whose creative impulses make them look beyond themselves and their immediate benefit and see the big picture of the community they belong to. These are people who manage to reach deep within and find what matters most, and then publicly present that for others to share.
For women working within the male-dominated restaurant industry, that’s not easy to do. But Chef Luz Beatriz Vélez has been doing that for years. As chef and co-founder of the restaurant Abasto in Bogota, she has been busy focusing on local ingredients and working with farmers and artisan producers.
Of course, Luz Beatriz hasn’t been alone in her mission. Her search for fresh, local ingredients in Bogota led her to found Abasto in Usaquén (a neighborhood in the north of Bogota) with Benjamín Villegas of Wok fame. That was back in 2007, at a time when the farm-to-table mentality was barely mentioned in the city. This is food that goes beyond the search for the freshest ingredients. It’s food with a social message, a call to buy from the local farmer and promote fair trade in Colombia.
Not surprisingly, the awards have followed. Year after year she’s been on the ‘Best of’ lists at the La Barra Awards, a sort of Oscars for the food industry in Colombia. In 2012 and 2014 she was voted Second Best Chef in Colombia. And Abasto took the award for third best casual restaurant in 2014 (this year’s awards are coming up soon, so we’ll see who wins).
One of Luz Beatriz’s passions is arepas, those little patties made of corn flour or ground corn that are the backbone of the Colombian diet (Abasto gets creative and makes them with other vegetables). In fact, her passion for the bread of Colombia led her to take her arepa recipes to Madrid Fusion, Madrid’s prestigious gastronomic festival.
Some ingredients don’t come from that close to Bogota – for instance, it’s obvious that octopus can’t be found in the high plains of Bogota, but it can come from Colombian coastal waters; and in Abasto, that’s where it’s from.
Check out the webpage to see the different fruits and vegetables used in Abasto. Chonto tomatoes made with native seeds. Gulupa. Granadilla. Cubios. Ají wai-ya. Macadamia from the coffee growing region of Colombia. Marañón (cashew) from Tolima. Homemade marmalades and organic honey. Their homemade breads are brought over from the Usaquén store: rye, quinoa, or squash breads, scones and muffins. Their organic coffee comes from small farms, and is roasted in the Abasto Bodega in Usaquen.
They use a variety of Colombian cheeses in their dishes: queso paipa, cuajada de Choachí, queso costeño, siete cueros del llano and campesino de cabra. Breakfast is one of my favorite times at Abasto, with an array of arepas (guajira, mote, egg, quinoa, purple corn) and some of the best pancakes I’ve had in South America.
Abasto recently opened up a new version of itself in Quinta Camacho, Bogota. I was invited to the launch, and curious about Luz Beatriz’s new project, I joined the chefs, food writers, editors of food magazines, bloggers and other supporters of Abasto to check out the new place.
This Abasto is right on the corner of Carrera 9 in Quinta Camacho, Bogota. Just a few blocks to the west of Zona G, which has long the main focus of the gastronomic scene in Bogota (guess what the G stands for), Quinta Camacho is the natural extension of the G Zone. The area is filled with English-style houses; a neighborhood that entrances with its Old World feel, restaurants with gardens out front, and parks that run through the middle of the streets.
Abasto Quinta Camacho resides in a large two-story house from the 1950s. Downstairs, the kitchen houses a Josper oven, which is a mix somewhere between an oven and a charcoal grill, and makes a very tender product.
At the launch, we ate:
Grilled hearts of palm with lemon and olive oil: grilling them brings out a nutty taste.
A creamy arroz caldoso, something similar to a risotto, with shrimp and a spot of avocado.
Empanadas filled with papa criollo and hogao with lulo aji. Does that sound like Greek to you? These are flavors that you just have to come to Bogota to try.
Sausage sandwich with chimichurri on homemade bread.
Grilled octopus with tomato veggies and a touch of ginger.
Chontadura empanadas with cubio. Frankly, when they told me what this was, I did not want to eat it. I’ve had chontadura on the streets of Bogota, and it hasn’t been a pleasant experience – a bland, flavorless mass of orange. And improperly cooked cubios are a grey, slimy mass of root vegetable. BUT don’t get discouraged – these empanadas were wonderful, crispy on the outside and flavorful on the inside. The cubio sauce was tangy and refreshing.
Appetizers from COP$11,000 to COP $15,000**
Main dishes from COP$18,000 to $35,000
Calle 69A # 9-09, Quinta Camacho, Bogota
** COP means that the prices are in Colombian pesos, not that there are Colombian meal police watching what you eat.**
Editor’s note: This restaurant closed at the end of 2016
It’s on a quiet corner of a quiet street in Quinta Camacho, just east of Carrera 10. I’ve always loved those English style houses in the area, with ivy covering the trees along the streets. But this time I wasn’t paying attention. I was looking for a restaurant – beware of a woman with an empty stomach – and I was searching for a sign that said Mordida Bistro. It’s a new place in the heart of Bogota’s best and brightest restaurant district, and I had no idea where it was.
What I learned from that experience was that sometimes it’s best not to look for a sign on a new restaurant in Colombia. Of course, Mordida Bistro does have a cute sign. It’s a little white sign above the white awning out front.
I did finally see it, and admired the thick wood doors and beams in the rustic white house, complete with wrought iron decorative bars. Firewood is stacked up at the entrance, and it’s not just a decoration; there is a cozy fireplace inside. (If it looks to you a little like La Despensa de Rafael, don’t think you’re going crazy. Mordida Bistro is from the same people who set up La Despensa).
Upstairs, in addition to a number of tables to eat at, there’s a small balcony with two tables, which is where I’m definitely having my meal the next time I come. For this meal, however, I chose the outside dining area on the ground level. I was accompanied by a feijoa tree, bougainvillea, ivy, begonias, and a palm tree. Willow trees peeked over from the neighboring yard.
I was there on a rainy afternoon, which made the quiet street feel romantic. I almost forgot I was in hectic Bogota. Of course, the staff thought I was crazy to stay outside with all that cold rain falling.
The idea at Mordida Bistro is to have…well, mordidas. Bites. Everything is designed to share, to picar (snack), or tapear (eat tapas). Of course, you can just order the dishes and keep them all to yourself, too. But the fun is in the sharing. Except the dessert. Don’t share it. Really.
The amount served is good for 2 people to share 3-4 dishes. 85% of the products are from Colombia, from right here in the savannah surrounding Bogota, from the Amazon, or another exotic location in Colombia. Vegetarian selections are clearly marked, as well as vegan and spicy dishes.
Daniel Pedroso is the Spanish chef that heads up the kitchen and thought up dishes like Jaiba rellena de salsa de curuba y coco, which is prawns filled with curubasauce, coconut, red curry, and sprouts.
Most of the menu involves seafood. But you can find linguini, pinxtos, lamb, Angus beef, Ossobuco, pork ribs or duck. There are some salads with combinations that I won’t turn down, like burrata with figs, mora, and prosciutto or a peach salad that mixes goat cheese, mint, cashews, and mustard.
I was invited to try the tuna temaki and shrimp confit . Spring roll wrappings are fried into a cone shape and then filled with spicy tuna. Dots of guacamole sat underneath, and bright orange tobiko (flying fish caviar) was on top. The fish flavor was mild, so don’t be scared off if you’re not a fish lover.
The visually appealing organic quinoa salad was on a smooth, delicious arracacha root purée, topped with chips that they call Andean Crunchies. On the side, the baby corn with a mysterious smoked flavor and the cherry tomatoes provided a good balance.
I also tried a dish with artichokes, an excellent pancetta, mushrooms and a warm egg. The waiter mixes it all up at the table, creating a creamy, messy, fun plate. The strong flavors of this tapa beg for a red wine.
Brochetas de pargo rojo guajiro was delicately sautéed fish wrapped in thin zucchini strips and topped with finely chopped mango, vegetables, and radish sprouts, all on a convenient stick.
The Arroz meloso de mariscos del Pacifico comes in a black cast iron pan set on a green tinged rock slab. Octopus pieces and tiger shrimp mingle over a red risotto with a slightly sweet touch.
If you’re looking for vegan ceviche (not easy to find in Bogota), you can try their ceviche vegano concocted from mushrooms, vegetables, and tofu with leche de tigre. And by the way, if you’re a vegetarian, you can let them know in advance and they’ll put together a vegetarian tasting menu for you.
The wine list is good, although if you’re looking for a bargain, you won’t find it. The cheapest, a Cantaluna Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina, was COP 58,000. From there the prices rise. There’s a selection from Portugal, Italy, France, Argentina, Spain and Chile, and the sommelier, Juan Franciso Vasto Uribe, is there to help you through the list.
The Toscana Le Rime Pinto Grigio-Chardonnay 2012 is easy on palate and easy on the wallet, a good choice for any of the seafood dishes or the vegan/vegetarian ones.
I had an intense microclimate Malbec – El Enemigo 2010 – from Argentina. It is now perhaps one of my favorite wines, though it seems it is just available in restaurants in Bogota.
Here beers hail from Belgium, Colombia, Chile, Spain, and Ireland.
The cocktail list is short. Besides a few classics, here are the specialties that highlight Colombian tastes:
Feijoa Martini, with vodka, feijoa fruit, and elderberry flowers.
Carambola Margarita – tequila, macerated star fruit (that’s the carambola in the name), lemon, orange and ají tahín.
Uchuva sour – Pisco Demonio de los Andes with uchuva and lemon. (Never heard of uchuva? Check it out here).
Ginger chilcano with Piso Quebranta, ginger, and mint.
The dessert list is a work in progress, but for now they have four options. My favorite is an interesting twist on apple pie. Served in a glass, cookie crumble mixes with finely chopped apples and a creamy topping. They also have house-made brownies and ice cream and arroz con leche.
Overall, I found Mordida Bistro to present a surprising variety of highest quality ingredients that are carefully prepared. Set in the quiet peacefulness of Quinta Camacho, it is definitely worth visiting.
What I’d heard about Restaurante Nueve sounded good to me. I’d been told that this small restaurant in Bogota not only has 150 different wines on the wine list, but that the menu is basically designed around getting people to experience how wonderful wine can be.
That’s right up my alley. I had to visit.
I arrive at the two story building and can’t find the entrance. How do I get into this restaurant? I ask at a boutique clothing store, and am ushered through the door. I am assured that yes, this is the restaurant entrance. Yes, through the boutique clothing store. After I get passed the clothing, handbags and shoes, jewelry, I do arrive at the restaurant.
And on thinking about it, I realize that’s not such a bad idea, to combine several passions in one. Dining, wining, and shopping. Convenient.
But although I was there to eat and drink, I had another purpose; to talk with the chef, sommelier and owner, Pedro Escobar. So, to the soft voice of Norah Jones crooning in the background, Pedro and I sat in the lounge area of the restaurant to chat about food, passions, and travels.
Pedro, who hails from Manizales, Colombia, first studied to be a lawyer. Then he decided cooking would be a less dangerous option for him, so he studied in Gato Dumas, and learned about wine in the Escuela Argentina de Sommeliers.
“Trips change us, because we learn about different flavors.”
Pedro begins to tell his Colombian story… in Spain. While travelling through Europe, he was thrilled by what he tasted. As he says, “Trips change us, because we learn about different flavors.” And he wanted to bring those flavors home to Colombia.
He also spoke of an advantage cooks have in Colombia. In Europe, there´s a lot of talk about eating vegetables in season. But in Colombia…What seasons? Here, harvest season is all year round, which is a huge advantage for a chef.
Wine and food
The full wine list at Nueve is set out on 3 slabs of wood; Argentina, Chile, U.S., Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal. Recommended wines are written on a blackboard, with their shockingly good prices. Pedro recommends a wine pairing for each course, and to go “in order”, starting with a sparkling wine, then onto a sherry, followed by rosé, then onto a red.
The menu, composed entirely of Pedro’s creations, is changed every four months. The tapas-style menu focuses on small dishes that allows diners to ask for exactly what they want, rather than just accepting the side dishes determined by the restaurant. That way people can try lots of flavors, creating a chain of flavors to go with wine pairings.
Some of the usual dishes expected of a Mediterranean-inspired kitchen are present, like risotto and ravioli. But there were unusual ones, like the rice cake made of arroz con coco (delicious coconut rice) with grilled prawns in a lemon sauce with pink pepper. The gnocchi served here have a Colombian twist: they’re made with Criolla potatos and costeño cheese served with a bacon sauce. Pedro recommends a rosé wine pairing.
Pedro loves to meet the people that come to his restaurant, and that’s why he’s kept the restaurant small: 32 seats. That way he can personally talk with the diners. To take the Spanish word that never seems to have an adequate equivalent in English, he likes to “atenderlos,” meaning attend to their every need. Not a bad philosophy for a restaurant.
Calle 70 A # 10 A – 18, Bogota
To find out more about the restaurant in Spanish, check out Nueve’s website.