Bogotá, Colombia's Chef Leonor Espinosa's Leo Cocina y Cava (Kitchen and Wine Cellar) would be "The Place to Dine" in Paris, New York, London, Barcelona, or any city you could imagine. Hidden on a tiny street, in the La Macarena neighborhood near the National Museum, one arrives with a reservation, and leaves, well fed, with a warm smile. The cuisine has a wonderfully unique taste, a fusion so unlike any you may have experienced.
Chef Leo explained "I travel various regions of Colombia to get the real essences of Colombian cuisine." A strong influence is "traditional furnace Afro-American cuisine", as adapted by cooks along the Colombian Coast, from her city of Cartagena, to tiny tropical islands like Providencia. Her rich spicy Creole based food is also beautiful art. This self taught chef presents her food with a flair and artistic palette that would please many a French or Japanese chef's eye and palate.
An inveterate traveler, Leo covers the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and goes up to the Andes to bring back spicing and unique flora and fauna for her diners. One regular diner says "She's crazy! She mixes the most improbable things together, and creates the most wonderful new taste that works!" Her guests include politicians, tourists and celebrities. Appropriate security is well in place, outside and inside.
The setting tends to a modern almost minimalistic decor, with clean, sharp lines, using bold reds, white and silver. There is upstairs seating, and despite the expense, it is often filled for lunch.
View from above, at end of LunchThe Bar
The menu is in Spanish, and the staff is multilingual. My translation is imperfect, as some techniques and fruit names do not have a precise English counterpart. Our lunch for four started with Muleas de cangrejo al ajillo, -Garlic crab claws, with Antillean rum, garlic and ground pepper, each served over a sweet corn patty. ($USD 18, 29,000). My photo shows half of the order, and they were delicious! I ordered a Corozo Martini, with Corozo (a palm nut) juice, Cointreau, vodka, ?currant liqueur, and lime juice-very good.Next was Flambéd Large shrimp (Langostinos flameados) with Antillean rum over risotto, Piacuil style, with Colombian Pacific conch, garlic and parsley, served with shaved guatila ( chayote, christophene or mirliton) and its cider, with microgreens (USD $31, 49,000). Nice clean taste, with langostinos perfectly cooked. The Tentaculos de pulpo, or Octopus tentacles and squid with shrimp($14, 22,000), grilled on coal, with garlic and lemon, and a corozo (a small palm nut) sauce, with grilled asparagus was absolutely heaven! Fresh, and tender beyond belief, Leo is the master of seafood, the grill master, letting the seafood take center stage with this succulently sauced dish. This alone would be worth your visit! Then Tuna medallions ( Medallones de Atún) (USD $29, 46,000) seared with a crust of small red onions, chives and pink peppers, with a tower of asparagus purée, topped with crisp fried carrot threads. An avocado, and another dark fruit sauce were on the side. Again perfectly cooked, with a very tasty crust.My next favorite was the most unusual-Róbalo fish filet-Filete de Róbalo, ($24, 38,000) (a snook or a sea-bass?), where a closed plantain leaf package is baked over coal, then unfolded at the table, releasing steam and revealing the tender róbalo within, served over black coconut rice and raisins. This is bathed with a "nectar of the gods"-like sauce that included stewed conch. This is a terrific way to present fresh fish with an incredible sauce, and the scent is wonderful. The Carne Puyada ( 32,000) is a small portion of slow cooked cut of beef, served Cartagenian style with a rich brown sauce with white wine, cooked tomato and onions, over an orange risotto with corn kernels. (Some things do not translate accurately!)
Others nearby ordered Red snapper.Salmon Medallions
For dessert, we had Mongo-mongo (USD $9, 14,000) a Monterian preserve of pineapple, mamey, guava, ripe plantain, coconut, pepper and cinnamon, served between round wafers of white cheese. An odd tropical blend, that defies comparison. The pineapple ice cream is delicious.
A second dessert, best for children, is Helado de kola Roman (USD$9), or ice cream from the Roman kola brand of sweet red soft drink, with a tiny Cartagenian cake, with a touch of cinnamon and brown sugar. There's also chontaduro, or a palm nut flesh, made into a sauce.
Leo's Duo de Flan with Milk and with Coco, with Caramel
The lunch for four people, including tip, was about $200, putting it as one of the most expensive lunches in Colombia. I enjoyed briefly chatting with Leo, through an interpreter. To have such a memorable meal every now and then, it was well worth it to my dining companions and me.
Upstairs, at end of Lunch The Stars of Leo's Cucina!
Very Satisfied Pamela, a "Happy Camper!"
Catadora de Comida Cristina de la Concha
Leo Cocina y Cava, Pasaje Santa Cruz de Mompox, Calle 27 B 6-75, Bogotá, Colombia. Phone: 286-7091