- David Gyscek
Two meals, two days apart, two hemispheres (Part 1)
A few weeks ago, we made a trip to Bogotá to renew my visa. Actually, I was attempting to get a resident visa, but did not have one necessary document that I need from the U.S., so instead, I was granted a new 3-year migrante cónyuge visa with only 5 minutes to spare before the office closed on a Friday when my then-current visa was expiring on Sunday. Happy ending to a crazy day running back and forth between immigration, banks, and Internet cafes. I’ll deal with the resident visa after my next trip to the States.
Knowing that there might be issues, I booked a weekend in Lima, Peru, just in case I needed to leave the country. I did insure that leg of the trip, but I wondered, why not go anyway? I’ve been wanting to get to Peru and into the Southern Hemisphere for some time and being landlocked in Antioquia, I can always use a dose of sea air and sea food.
First, back to Bogotá.
Juan had been reading about a renown chef, Leonor Espinosa, who is considered Latin America’s best female chef. Her eponymously named restaurant, Leo Cocina y Cava (http://www.restauranteleo.com/inicio/) is also considered one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. With our interest piqued, we made a reservation for their 9:30 seating. (They only do two dinner seatings.)
**Correction: in 2018 Leo was named the 10th best restaurant in Latin America (https://www.theworlds50best.com/latinamerica/en/the-list.html)
We arrived a little before 9:30 so we stopped for a cocktail across the street and next to the National Museum in downtown Bogotá. Upon approach to the restaurant, we noticed the door was closed as were the shutters on the windows. We rang the bell and were escorted into what was to be a magical, strange, and surprisingly delicious 11-course meal.
For some background into their philosophy and mission:
There had been a large group scheduled during our seating that canceled at the last minute, so rather than put us in the upstairs dining room alone, they sat us at the bar and provided a couple of fabulous cocktails while we waited for our table in the main dining room. I’m not sure what else was in it (I think the base was vodka), but the flavor and color came from the fruit, corozos. After the second, we had quite a nice buzz going… primed and ready for what was to come next.
I wasn’t vigilant enough to document every course — too caught up in the moments as they arrived, but here are some highlights. But before I forget, let me just say that the service, from start to finish, was impeccable.
Course 1 Achira bread with guasca butter. Simple and splendid.
Course 3 It was gone too fast to photograph — raw Albacore, topped with molasses and long pepper, dusted with ground Santander ants (strong flavor).
Main menu: Course 4 Seasonal white fish (I believe is was Robalo), páramo leaves, güesgüin, copoazú, pea shoots. Delicate, fresh, beautiful.
Course 5 Caiman, peach-palm, Amazonian black pepper sauce. This was a big surprise! It was a savory custard with a bit of caiman meat (the part that looks like an egg). It was sublime. Never tasted anything like it. Took me to another world. Paired with an artisanal beer.
Course 6 Pirarucú (fresh water fish), cacay, sour yucca, lulito pepper. This dish is all about the temperatures and textures. The raw fish was swimming in a ice cold creamy broth, covered by freeze dried something or other.
Course 7 Local duck on a cariaco corn arepa (more like a taco though). Juicy and intensively flavorful. Perhaps my favorite course of the night. Paired with a fermented mora (similar to a black berry, but much tarter) drink.
Course 8 Tallo leaf filled with Andean tubers in a rich meat stock. This dish was greater than the sum of its parts.
Pre-dessert: Course 9 Macambo (type of cacao), mojojoy (Amazonian worm), mambe (unrefined powder made of coca leaves), borojó (fruit from the Chocó region), Manaure salt — I can’t recall how these were all processed or prepared, but I do recall a pudding/creamy dessert with bits of worm. Quite nice.
Dessert: Course 10 Heart of palm, salbajón, feijoa — I have very little memory of this one and no picture.
Coffee: Course 11 Tumaco chocolate — I don’t know what this was filled with, but it was a spectacular end to the meal. Paired with Parce 8-year rum — an award winning Colombia rum.
Next stop… Lima, Peru.
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