When Donostia opened its doors on the Calle 29, a steep and quiet street behind the country’s National Museum, it did so to break the notion that to run a restaurant you need to be in a populated and heavily transited gastro zone.
San Sebastian – or Donostia by its Basque name – was one of the many places Chef Tomás Rueda visited while living in Barcelona, studying cooking at a postgraduate level. He learned first hand how to pick and choose fresh produce at markets and walked away from this experience with a profound respect for the Basque plate.
Donostia, the restaurant, serves an innovative mix of Spanish cuisine cooked with Colombian ingredients. An elegant brown leather banquet runs through the main dining area and there is a wooden counter for appetizers. A high ceiling with globe lamps blends a modern décor with the house’s colonial past.
Beneath the gaze of a once mighty bull, diners can peruse the tapas menu chalked on the board over the bar and open kitchen. A selection of savories are presented: anchovies, Iberian ham, Spanish tortilla, meatballs, manchego cheese and diced spiced potatoes: patatas bravas.
While Spain might have inspired Rueda to open a ‘downtown’ tasca, the spirit behind Donostia is very Colombian. “We don’t have pretentions,” says the chef. “It’s a human place, especially in the way we attend our clients.”
Whether in for drinks and small decadents, best enjoyed with libations of beer, wine and sangria, Donostia has a select menu of dishes and likes to keep it very simple. An extensive wine list features varietals from the New World and the Old. A choice of wines from Argentina, Chile, Spain and Australia are well priced. There’s even Australian Chardonnay.
Rueda shows a fondness for robust flavors and ingenious combinations. A grilled pork chop, chuletón de cerdo glaseado en BBQ citrica y Boronia, is accompanied with uncommon companions of eggplant and plantain. The sweetness of the plantain creates a delicate balance with the bitterness of this vegetable. The chop was juicy and cooked ‘a la plancha’ infusing the tender meat with a distinctive smoky flavor.
Donostia’s main courses are strong on the fish with five choices to choose from. The pan seared trout with roasted potatoes covered with farmer’s Paipa cheese is subtle and shows the chef’s inclination for using local ingredients. “All our fish dishes are premium,” says Rueda, explaining that he brings in a fresh catch from the Pacific in limited supplies. “I’ve had clients come in and ask for the grilled tuna and I’ve had to say “sorry I’m out of that. I cannot bring myself to serve something that isn’t fresh.”
Rueda takes great pride in the fact that his restaurant is for a discerning customer who would rather enjoy good conversation over a bottle of wine and eat right, rather than be overwhelmed by too much choice and high prices. “I don’t cook so I can be applauded,” says this Bogotano. “My plates don’t feed my ego.”
Calle 29 Bis No. 5 – 84