These days one is likely to find fresh fish in the most unlikely of places. Take Grand Central Terminal for example. There, in the catacombs of Manhattan, lies The Oyster Bar. Since 1913, it has been satisfying a seafood obsession where anyone can walk up to the famed raw bar indulge in a cup of chowder and a dozen Blue Pointes, before catching the 6:53 to Poughkeepsie.
Far from the madding crowds of the Big Apple, and at a slightly higher altitude, exists another ‘central.’ In Bogotá’s vibrant Zona Rosa, Central, a modern cevicheria, prepares what comes naturally to them: good fresh seafood. Flown in daily from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Colombia, fish is the focus. On a cold Bogotá night, my guests and I decide to check in at Central at the helm of Chef and Partner, Andrew Blackburn.
We are escorted to a crowded candlelit terrace, where gas heaters keep us from catching highland hypothermia, and order a bottle of Argentinean Merlot to warm the palate. The fish dominated menu alarms one of my companions. After all, Bogotá has no oceans and many restaurants still rely heavily on frozen fish. Fortunately, things have begun to change in the city as an increasing number of discerning customers have forced restaurants to think ‘fresh’ first. Supplies now arrive in the city daily from Colombia’s own shores and those of Chile, Ecuador and Peru. In fact, our eloquent waiter was careful to explain the importance of the transport and handling process. While I am not sure I am ready to reach for oysters on the half shell, the rest of the menu looks very inviting.
Homemade chorizos, quesadillas with Paipa cheese and a seared beef, lomo sellado, are some of the non-fish appetizer options. But the draw at Central is the ceviche, abundant and served in glass bowls and with a wide gamut of flavors. Try the ‘Caribe’ ceviche doused in coastal sour cream (suero), with cilantro, red peppers and chunky plantain. It is delicious. The ‘Pacifico’ mixed with seaweed, sesame oil and soy sauce is another Central favorite.
For those who like soups, Blackburn, true to his Scottish roots, serves a good broth. On the menu, four varieties grab our attention, including a white fish chowder cooked New England style, the Italian cioppino in fresh pomodoro and two Colombian dishes. We opt for the cazuela de mariscos, which turned out to be a bouillabaisse-style, loaded with shrimp, squid, mussels, chunks of white fish with hints of vanilla.
While we sampled the tiraditos, thinly sliced fillets of white fish, several people enduring the cold night with us were dipping their fingers into baskets of fried calamari and fish cakes. All these accompanied with half lemons and a chipotle chili dip. The small fry is a big mover at Central.
After navigating the menu, we opt for the house fillets of corvina and snapper. The corvina (similar to Dover sole) a la plancha with lemon, sea salt and olive oil is flaky, if not slightly over cooked. The snapper with its coconut infusion and hint of ginger was tender without being soupy. This includes the English-style fish and chips.
Although Central is a leafy place – check the dotted African palms in the courtyard – it is lacking them on the plate, so we ask for an American standby, creamed spinach. This side dish was not heavy and refreshingly free of any nutmeg taste. The end of our meal was crowned with a decadent banana bread pudding.
Central has an airy, inviting feel and a well-stocked bar. While you can share some deep fried shrimp at the bar with a glass of Venezuelan rum, you can also opt for the Pear and Cranberry Juice or the Lychee martini. The accommodating service should be highlighted as well as its honest food and interesting liquid concoctions. So just sit back and relax, as there’s no train to catch at Central.