One of the joys of world travel is the fascinating cuisine to be discovered. For instance, the first time I was offered cow intestine soup was a memorable moment, and I never cease to be amazed by those tropical fruits that resemble alien species. But after a few days of such cultural exposure, what can happen? The reality of travel abroad is that after a bit, it can get…well, foreign. And that is when a traveler might start to consider visiting a restaurant that imparts a familiar taste.
Several new restaurants have opened up in Bogotá with an American twist. A mix of cultures from all around the world, from Italian to Asian to Mexican, American food can have something for everyone. So when looking for familiar tastes in Bogotá, where can that American taste be found?
La Fama Barbecue (Calle 65 Bis No. 2-85) promises an American BBQ experience. But – an authentic Southern barbecue in Colombia? Could that be possible? The owner/manager Santiago Arango took an extended trip through the southern United States looking for the American barbecue experience, and fell in love with what he found. Determined to bring those tastes back to Colombia, he opened up La Fama in late November 2012 with a menu that serves up all the traditional elements of a downhome barbecue: smoked brisket, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, coleslaw and macaroni and cheese, combined with personalized attention and yes, that American taste.
“La Fama” is a term used to refer to butcher shops in Colombia, and the simple entrance to this restaurant south of Zona G made me think I really had arrived at a butcher shop. A former carpenter’s warehouse, this unpretentious place has simple park bench tables, bare light bulbs strung from the ceiling, and plants growing in 5 gallon Heinz pickle cans. A casual atmosphere, just right for a barbecue.
I was invited to eat there and was faced with enough food for a whole Texan family. The fried pork rinds are first smoked, then briefly deep fried, creating a thin, crispy crust and a lightly smoked taste. The homemade jalapeño and Monterey Jack cheese chorizos had just the right amount of heat. The meat, smoked on the premises for up to 16 hours in the large smoker imported from Tennessee, was tasty and tender. The jalapeño mac and cheese was creamy and delicious, the homemade BBQ sauce right on, and a huge salad with crispy fried scallion strips balanced out the cholesterol overdose. Of course, all of this is accompanied with plenty of paper towels and an abundance of good Colombian beer.
Upper Side 81st Street
In early November 2012, a restaurant with New York roots was born in Bogotá. The menu of the Manhattan-inspired gastropub Upper Side 81st Street (Carrera 13 No. 81- 24, 4th floor) represents some of the major New York culinary influences such as Asian, Italian, Jewish and others. The modern design of the loft restaurant includes an elegant walk-in wine cellar, a hanging garden and an open terrace providing abundant daytime sunlight as well as a place for nighttime enchantment. Recommended treats are the baked potato soup, the Ultimate BLT, SoHo Lamb chops, and blueberry cheesecake.
One of the owners, Javier Coria, explains that it’s a space to disconnect from work and spend a leisurely evening with friends until late at night. My favorite spot is to sink into one of the oversized couches in front of the immense bar where bartenders serve up drinks with style. Hours are extended until 2:30 a.m. several days a week.
Looking for a piece of Brooklyn in Colombia? Located near the Zona G, the Gordo Brooklyn Restaurant and Bar (Carrera 4A No. 66-84) recreates a New York-style restaurant. The soft couches, large bar and friendly staff make a comfortable environment in this multilevel space.
Daniel Castaño, one of the owners, studied at the International Culinary Center in New York, worked with chef and restaurant owner Mario Batali, and has now brought his culinary vision to Bogotá. He and co-owner Camilo Giraldo explained to me that the emphasis here is on good cocktails, accompanied by simple food made with the best ingredients. The cocktails are made with fresh juice, homemade syrups and infused liquors. And of course, there’s just the right kind of ice for each drink, whether it be large chunks of incredibly cold rock ice that doesn’t water down your drink, smaller crystal clear cylinders or crushed ice.
The cocktails were designed by New York resident and self-proclaimed “cocktail geek” Mayur Subbarao, and all have a special touch that you won’t find elsewhere in Bogota. For instance, the Martini is made with vermouth produced on the Gordo premises and bitters from Brooklyn Bittermens. The specialty of the house is the Central Park Swizzle, made with Gordon’s Gin, lime juice, mint, Peychaud and Angostura bitters.
Looking to satisfy the need for a good hamburger? This is the place. The attention to detail is what makes the Gordo hamburger special. The meat is ground fresh twice daily; the bacon, pickles and buns are made on the premises; the tomatoes are grown for them. Even the little things are important; they use Heinz ketchup, Gulden’s mustard, and Japanese mayonnaise. And to balance it out, there’s a good selection of salads, especially for a place called Gordo that specializes in hamburgers. The oven-roasted salmon is another light option.
After getting in touch with my roots, I can continue exploring classic Colombian cuisine. The choices are bountiful. I’ll start with a bag of Santander fried ants.
La Fama: Calle 65 Bis No. 2-85
Upper Side 81st Street: Carrera 13 No. 81- 24, 4th floor
Gordo: Carrera 4A No. 66-84