Overlooking the south side of Parque El Virrey, located on the corner of Carrera 14 and Calle 88, is Canasto Picnic Bistro, an unpretentious eatery serving fresh, sustainable, socially responsible and financially viable cuisine, as its motto claims.

The menu offers a comprehensive choice of meals catering to meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans alike (plant-food-whole-wheat and gluten-free options are available). The food overall is comforting and satisfying no matter your dietary choice or your level of social consciousness.

Portions are generous and dishes are well executed, yet affordable, and, most of all, refreshing in the ample sense of the word. Bogotá’s culinary scene, as in many other cities of the world, is prone to copying trendy dishes that end up as mish-mash replicas on menus, one after the next, boring customers to no amaze. A bit more of the same, eh? Not quite.

A personal take on new classics

Canasto’s menu is about keeping it clean, local and tasty, without falling for over inventiveness, yet offering customers a new take on classics. Midday lunch is bubbling with friends. Easy conversations resound through the covered patio. The rumbling of waiters taking to their business and the clatter of cutlery of sharing plates set the tone to the busy lunch hour at its peak.

The quaint and almost rustic setting and the operation itself are the result of a group effort in which each partner plays a concerted role to make sure business goes smooth as usual. Among them is chef and partner Alejandro Cuellar, known for his active role as a spokesperson for Save the Children Colombia and participant in the TV series Master Chef.

We start with a wholewheat beetroot toast topped with a coriander spread, avocado and smoked trout ($15,900). Garnished with coriander sprouts and served with capers and purple olives, the open sandwich is generous and satisfying. The smokiness of the fish is not overpowering, the avocado is perfectly ripe and the bread is thick and crunchy without being difficult to handle.

The Tilapia Ceviche ($16,200) is served in a bowl, with a side of native potato chips and lime wedges on a black stone plate. The Leche de Tigre or Tiger Milk, the juice that comes from mixing the fish and the lime that cooks the meat, is tangy and brings out the flavors of the gulupa fruit used to prepare it.

Nasturtium flowers, red onions, cilantro, red pimentos, puffed corn kernels, pear squash and sweet potato add texture to the ceviche, which is about to spill over. The crisps don’t go a long way, as my friends and I enjoy them to the very last one. Once again the portion is generous. We look at one another as the next dishes make their way to the table. Have we ordered too much? Not really, the menu is way too enticing. It even offers picnic baskets to go!

Cocoa nibbles and dessert

The vegetarian burger ($21,400) made of quinoa and chickpeas is served between two beet-root buns, and topped with arugula, goat cheese and cucumbers. Crunchy yet moist, the vegetarian patty does not disappoint. The house special shares its place on the menu with the Canasto Hamburger ($24,400). The beef patty is served with a pesto spread, onion and balsamic vinegar marmalade, roasted carrots and zucchinis.
New to the menu, the roasted beetroot slivers ($9,900) are served over a squash and carrot puree and topped with goat cheese and cocoa nibbles. Simply outstanding. Sweet and sour, it will leave you scraping the Chamba bowl to the core, and we did. Another dish to look out for is the broccoli and cauliflower with chorriado sauce
($12,500). Comforting and savory, the vegetables add crunchiness to the cheese sauce, which is typically Colombian, and a must try.

To end lunch (yes, we did order dessert and several spoons to share), we choose another Colombian classic: Merengón ($13,900), a meringue topped with strawberries, blackberries, arequipe mousse and praline bits. Just right, it is sweet enough to want another spoonful.

Vegan and gluten-free desserts are available such as the Macha and Lime Cheese Cake ($14,900) – one of my friend’s favorite. Both desserts are perfect to end a satisfying meal in the hands of a chef that pays as much attention to responsible and healthy practices, as he does to flavor and presentation.

In fact, chef Alejandro Cuellar uses seasonal and wild plants and flowers to create sustainable dishes that allow people to explore food through the senses. A new menu is on the way, and promises to enrich his culinary pursuit, and remind us of the importance of eating local, as a way to respect the world we live in and enjoy life to its fullest. www.canasto.co

Canasto Picnic Bistro – Calle 88 No.13A – 51

Tel: +57-1-300 1184

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