Harry Sasson is a well-known name on Bogotá’s restaurant scene. Ever since he graduated from the Anglo Colombiano School in 1987 and apprenticed at Sena, Harry’s destiny was to be in the kitchen, or several as it has turned out.
After spending time in Vancouver, the most Asian of Canadian cities, Harry returned to Bogotá to open his first venue, H.Sasson – Wok & Satay Bar. The year: 1995. Shortly afterwards came a pastry and salad bar – H & B – now Harry’s Bakery. Harry’s Bakery is located around the corner from Harry’s, one of the city’s most memorable restaurants.
With three concepts operating 7 days a week, and a partnership in Club Colombia and Balzac restaurants, Harry Sasson, is on the front line of Bogotá gastronomy, having gone through the good times and the bad, such as the late 1990′s when many restaurants were forced to close as clients left the country and moved their appetites – and confidence – elsewhere.
Much to Harry’s credit, he stayed the course and became a pioneer in the changing culture of the city’s restaurant scene; which gained international exposure recently as clients increasingly demanded more choice, and more value for money. Whether ordering a chocolate chip cookie at Harry’s Bakery, a Bombay Sapphire at Harry’s bar, or a tenderloin from the grill at ‘Harry Sasson,’ you are guaranteed from the moment you walk in the door, the ‘customer is always right’ philosophy. This North American vision to customer service (and lots of talent) have helped drive the highly successful career of this 44 year-old chef turned entrepreneur.
Walking along the Carrera 9, past the gates of the prestigious boys private school, Gimnasio Moderno, you can appreciate a National Heritage mansion, home to Sasson’s ‘Harry Sasson’ restaurant. Pulling into the driveway you will notice that this 1914 red brick house elongates into a glass atrium, and that the restaurant essentially emerges as a series of spaces set aside to showcase Harry’s recipes; many of which have had staying power since his Mediterranean meets Thai venue in the Zona T.
Passing guests in an intimate turn-of-the-last century room, through a glass enclosure where my table is set, a sense of history permeates the dining areas. An open kitchen and brick oven are motifs Harry has adapted from other venues, setting a tone that guests should observe the elaboration of food, enjoying a sensory experience, and engage with the dining moment.
Unlike Harry’s with its bar listing of glazed ribs, risottos, steaks and crab burgers, Harry Sasson’s menu is about the essentials of cooking – from temperature and tools – to its origins: there’s the Japanese grill, Asian wok, a bold fusion of tastes thanks to the roaring flames of his oven.
At first I find the menu difficult to navigate and the murmur of the dining room distracting, but the starters are attractive and my dining companions are enthralled by the ambience. We decide on fried pork huesitos and the grilled octopus with diced potatoes, chorizo and green olive oil. The waiters are attentive and formal. To accompany the starters we order some potent cocktails: a Cosmopolitan, a Manhattan, a Gin Tonic. The drinks are prepared perfectly, typical of Harry’s signature generosity in a glass.
Harry Sasson’s menu is extensive with sections such as ‘Mozzarella Bar’ and ‘Robata’ (Japanese Grill). Then there are ‘Panes, Planos y Pides’ and ‘De Ayer y De Hoy.’ And we’re not finished. I read the entire menu again. Back to Front. In “Asador de Leña’ (Wood Oven) I find a generous selection of chicken, fish and meats, including New Zealand lamb.
As a client of Harry’s bar, I appreciate this chef’s premium meats. I find ‘From Yesterday to Today’ quite engrossing, so I order duck – crispy tamarind duck. My companions go for grilled corvine with capers and the fired lamb cutlets.
Harry has created a restaurant which builds on a theme and where guest are invited to choose side dishes to enhance the plate. There is food “alchemy” in every dish, from contrasting flavors to those, which create harmony. There’s also the Colombian touch in many of the house dishes and deserts, such as burned rice ‘pega’ and the ‘morcilla’ Burgos style.
Harry does not go out on a limb with ingredients. There’s simplicity in every dish, which makes them unique. Where the chef retreats with spices and peppers, he advances with lemons and a Latin zest – ‘sazón’. It’s an honest approach to food, combined with a profound understanding of regional ingredients. In fact, one could say, that Harry Sasson stands apart, precisely, because it’s Harry’s ‘sazón.’
Carrera 9 No. 75-70