Culto Pacific redraws Bogotá’s culinary map from Chocó

Culto Pacific/Richard Emblin

The restaurant Culto Pacific in Bogotá’s historic La Candelaria is a newcomer to the zone’s eclectic gastro scene, offering a casual, yet refined venue for both residents and visitors. Nestled on a side street above the bustling crowds visiting La Candelaria’s most famous landmarks, the new National Arts Center and Botero Museum, Culto Pacific pays tribute to the biodiversity of Colombia’s Pacific coast, as interpreted by partner Natalia Esquenazi and chef-auteur Daniel Mejía.

With its high ceiling, brick and mortar frame, the wood table dining room includes a walk-up bakery counter and offers guests views of the indoor courtyard of the Morph Group’s latest hospitality venture and long-stay apartments. Culto Pacific must be included in a visit to a historic district that is redrawing its post-pandemic culinary map.

Entrance to Culto Pacific/Richard Emblin

The restaurant offers two distinct menus, one for casual or comfort dining and the other for a more complex gourmet experience. In both cases, it uses the freshest ingredients harvested in the departments of Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Chocó, which in the hands of Daniel Mejía, a rising star in Bogotá’s crowded gastro scene, delivers balanced, creative and innovative dishes. Mejía lives up to the responsibility of interpreting one of Colombia’s most bountiful regions in terms of foods and food heritage without compromising authenticity.

So if you’re ready to embark on a gastronomic adventure that restores your faith in La Candelaria’s potential to expand beyond the confines of the pedestrian or típico, prepare yourself for an extended and relaxed experience, as the menu was created to be enjoyed for either lunch or dinner. This is one of the restaurant’s many praiseworthy attributes: it charts its own culinary course. It’s also uncompromising. Bold. Unpretentious.

There are six starters on the menu, best shared, and representative of the Pacific’s variety of seafood, fruits and seasonings. Ranging between COP$24,500 and COP$31,800 per plate, we order the Bocados del Pacífico, served in palm-sized green plantain baskets, and three beautiful choices that include cubed Tuna in a chontaduro sauce; cassava tartar with creamy coastal cheese, and artisanal veal sausage in a Pacific sofrito, or onion/tomato stir-fry.

The first appetizer left us wanting more, and our second selection is the coconut and cheese croquettes filled with Pacific crab. This dish is best paired with white wine, and the house offers a comprehensive selection from South American estate wineries.

The tiered Vegane Tartine with beetroot purée, portobellos and radish slivers sprinkled with baby arugula over green plantain bread is a good option for those on plant-based diets, and doesn’t compromise flavor or Mejía’s attention to detail.

The three starters among my dining companions were in themselves a sophisticated meal, and while we could have stopped there and then, the chef was keen to showcase several of Culto’s mains, and there are 12 on the curated menu. From a mollusk tamal with coconut milk and shrimp to the Pacific’s stalwart fish and shellfish Cazuela (stew), different culinary options turned up at the table, each cooked to perfection and with several vegetarian choices.

The gastro menu offers vegetarian entrees such as the Rooftop Dish, an oven braised cucumber filled with cassava, smooth coastal cream cheese and coconut milk, and accompanied with a Pacific bean purée and guatila chips.

A signature dish that shows Mejía’s nuanced style is the Octopus ($50,800) in a chimichurri ‘a-la-azotea’ sauce – or foraged Pacific herbs – and served over creamy chontaduro rice. Rice, in fact, is one of the main protagonists at Culto Pacific, as it is in the Colombian Pacific homestead, where this staple is boiled in large vats over wood-fired stoves, and served creamy and moist.

Among the “must haves” is the Beef Ossobucco ($52,000) with sweet potato (batata) purée; the Sea Bass ($44,500) in gulupa syrup and coconut; grilled Chocoano portobello mushrooms (42,300); and slow-cooked beef neck (morrillo) with sugarcane and borojo reduction ($52,400). A pink tuna tartar (43,500) or filet of Corvine ($44,500) with plantain are also house favorites. And showing that Mejía is the unassuming star of the kitchen, try the Shrimp ‘tatemados’ in a sweet corn and baby carrot bisque.

Attentive wait staff and the restaurant’s philosophy to celebrate fine gastronomy at a fair price is also reflected in a comfort food menu, that looks as enticing as its Pacific companion. For Natalia, Culto fuses the love of a region so essential to Colombia’s food identity with her Eastern European ancestry, where baked goods are the centerpiece of every family table.

“Our mission is to prepare food respecting local supply chains and the communities that harvest responsibly,” says Natalia. “By looking at the Pacific’s food diversity and fragile ecosystems, there is much to learn. We hope guests take home some of the wisdom and knowledge that goes in every plate.”

CULTO Pacific / Carrera 1 No.8-20.  Reservations: +57(310)7929689

Follow Culto Pacific on Instagram: @cultopacific

Richard Emblin