In a city packed with extravagant restaurants, there is a small unpretentious place in the Macarena where simplicity reigns. At Tabula, Tomas Rueda, a 35-year-old rocker turned renegade chef, creates a sacred temple where the deities are the ingredients, the altar the table and the diners its celebrants.

Though the name may be derived from the Latin for “table,” it is the spirit of community, the concept of family that Rueda creates in his restaurant. A disciple of the great Catalan chef, Santi Santamaria, Rueda believes in using local ingredients, in season, in a way that leaves every diner believing in the importance of “simple food.”

As he told us, “I want there to be a spiritual community, a linking of food to table (and) to people.”  The menu is comprised of dishes that should be shared and cleverly sets out suggestions for those befuddled by choices. At Tabula, you are invited to linger. After all, says Rueda, “the foods that are the most delicious are the ones that can be attributed to specific memories.”

In his small, open-air kitchen, home style cooking is elevated to a new level. Rueda is not concerned with following the recipes of any particular region, attributing his cuisine to an amalgam of his experiences and those of his crew.

Although you will not find Ajiaco here, Rueda’s dishes have a definite Colombian soul. Nothing reminded me more of my own childhood than the raviolones de gallina con queso paipa y almendras ($24,000) large, overstuffed moons filled with stewed chicken folded in a creamy tomato sauce topped with paipa cheese and almonds reminiscent of my own mother’s Colombian kitchen.

The nutty aroma given off by the toasted almonds and the authenticity of the paipa cheese, make this my favorite dish at Tabula. While the dish is meant to be shared by two or even three, I would suggest keeping the plate close at hand!

Wanting to recreate an Osso Bucco dish he had shared with friends while apprenticing in Europe, Rueda worked tirelessly with a purveyor until he found just the right veal cut.  By making canilla de Novillo estofado ($58,000) a regular menu item, he has provided a market for a particular type of livestock that in turn helps sustain the farming community. The canilla, seared first and then slowly cooked over a bed of mirepoix until the meat falls off the bone, is unforgettable.  Salty, stringy and paired with a baked apple, it should be shared by three or four people.

I couldn’t resist adding a dense envuelto de maiz ($9,800), a tantalizingly rich sweet corn cake served in a cornhusk. The avocado salad ($5,800) is a suggested accompaniment, but we opted instead for a mix of fire-roasted potatoes ($5,800).

Fish lovers need not fret as Tabula purveys fish from the Pacific and Baru regions. Sauteed calamaris ($14,500), white fish croquettes ($15,100) and fresh daily choices are regular players on the menu.  We sampled the pulpo al grill al romero ($14,300), grilled octopus with rosemary which highlights Ruedas belief in coaxing flavor out of the “unglamorous” cuts be they fish or beef.

We connect with Rueda’s passion for cooking not because we are presented with foods that have been mystically transformed into foams or stacked to impossible heights, but because there is no artifice in his kitchen. At Tabula, this passionate and resourceful chef has a platform for changing the way well heeled Bogotanos view fine dining.

 

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