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Beyond Coffee & Chocolate in Bogotá's Dining Scene
September 10, 2008 at 3:13PM by Adam H. Graham |  comments

My Avianca flight to Bogotá from JFK was remarkably brief (5 hours) and like many short hauls these days, it was also remarkably bereft of a good meal.

Fortunately Bogotá -- the almost 2-mile high city with a population equal to New York City -- was eager to show off its chic new dining scene, reminiscent of its insouciant southern neighbor, Buenos Aires, but even more varied.

Unlike the stylish Poretños and their carne-forward parillas, Bogatanos embrace a sweeter cuisine, marked by the equatorial country's abundance of tropical fruits like the uber-fragrant lulo and the tangy tomate de árbol, both members of the nightshade family. Fried mainstays like arepas, empanadas, and chicken-based soups like sancocho, and ajiaco are ubiquitous on menus throughout Colombia and still favored over many international cuisines. But palates are changing in Bogotá as chefs and restaurateurs from all over Latin America swoop in to take advantage of the capital's affordable rents. This trend, paired with the city's 63% drop in crime over the last decade, has given birth to a generation of disposable incomes and adventurous palettes that mark Bogotá's stylish new dining class.Rafael Restaurant Bogota

I started my grazing tour in Bogatá's Zona G (Gourmet Zone) at the mod and light-filled Rafael (pictured), popular with Bogotá's impeccably-tailored lunch set, and decorated with naughahyde banquettes, giant glass walls crisscrossed with frosted stripes, and rich wood wine-racks separating the dining room into distinct sections. In typical celeb-chef fashion, the dashing Peruvian Chef Rafael Osterling -- who owns a small chain of eponymous restaurants in Lima, China Beach, Peru, and Bogotá -- was absent during my visit due to the opening of another new Rafael in Buenos Aires. Still, his 25-deep kitchen staff expertly prepared dishes like Chilean salmon sashimi with avocado tartar sauce, crispy shrimp tempura atop a mango and Cajun spiced nut salad, roasted sea grouper in squid ink and Spanish ham broth, and tender lomo saltado with pisco and black-beer perfume. I followed it all with a banana and Nutella cheesecake.

My eating tour continued to the La Macarena neighborhood for a cozy dinner at Cocina y Cava (Calle 27B, No 6-75), largely considered the city's most exclusive restaurant and run with much love by Cartagena-born chef Leonor Espinosa, known for her coastal home-cooked dishes. Creations like sea bass wrapped in fragrant banana leaves with raisins, prawns in coconut milk, coriander and paprika and raw tuna encrusted with Santanderean ants (a Colombian specialty) brought unique flavors to traditional Colombian comfort foods, something Leonor takes great pride in. Other notable upscale newcomers include the French-influenced Criterion, run by brothers Jorge and Mark Rausch, the colorful Oia Med Bistro (Calle 70A # 5-67), housed in an elegant brick mansion, and 8o Sillas (Calle No. 118. 7-09), a flashy cevicheria painted with chalkboard walls listing out endless variations of raw fish and fruit.

Adam H. Graham is a contributing writer for this blog; his work also frequently appears in Town & Country Travel, both in the magazine and online.
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Luxury Train Travel: Ten Trips That Prove It's the Journey, Not the Destination
Luxury Train Travel: Ten Trips That Prove It's the Journey, Not the Destination
Town & Country Travels Home
A Taste of Things to Come at Paris's Le Cinq
A Taste of Things to Come at Paris's Le Cinq
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