With so many típico Mexican restaurants in town, where food is a front for blazing mariachi and platters of soggy enchiladas, Cantina y Punto is anything but the aforementioned.
Break away from the beaten-to-death décor of sombreros and Day of the Dead masks on a wall to step inside one of Bogotá’s more exciting and carefully thought out Mexican eateries. It’s meant to be a cantina, full stop. Hence, the …y punto.
At a tavern decked with high wooden tables, soft lighting and an extended bar featuring over-generous tequila margaritas and chilled mugs of micheladas, you can observe the lost art of nixtamalización — a process hailing back to ancient Mesoamerica of working dried corn kernels into soft and malleable tortillas.
Cantina y Punto is located on a Chapinero Alto side street and within walking distance of the city’s gastro-zone, the Zona G. The brain child of 36-year-old restaurateur Santiago Arango, in partnership with the Artak group (Ugly American and La Fama), the restaurant’s executive chef is Roberto Ruiz, the Mexican-born, Michelin-star chef of the Madrid’s celebrated Punto MX.
“The folklore is in the food and not on the wall,” remarked chef Ruiz to Forbes magazine when Punto MX became the only Mexican restaurant to earn a Michelin star in Europe. Upon the heels of this important recognition, the celebrated chef went on to open two other venues in the Spanish capital: Mezcal Lab and Salón Cascabel.
A meeting in Spain between Ruiz and Arango paved the way for the chef’s first culinary incursion in South America. “It’s a canteen with authentic Mexican food,” claims Arango just six months after the venue opened its doors to the Bogotá public.
The menu consists of 45 plates, many of which are meant to be shared. The authenticity stems from recipes which are traditional to specific regions in Mexico or have been handed down through generations, in places where chef Ruiz traveled.
Wherever you sit, the guacamole served in a stone molcajete, or lava stone mortar, is an obligatory starter and will accompany you through the flavours of chef Ruiz’s innovative menu.
As a starter there are aguachiles, Mexican-style fish ceviches prepared with either tuna, shrimp or the catch of the day. The three-listed tostadas are house originals and come served with chicken (Tostada de pollo enchiplotelado), tuna (Tostadas de atún jalapeno) and from Rosarito beach, near Baja, the legendary shrimp and diced-fish Tostada Rosarito.
Before we go deep into the classics, the taco is a star unto itself. And there is plenty of choice. Each plate comes with the two or three of these traditional Mexican staples.
The melted cheese with green chorizo taco is a dream dish and best consumed as soon as you’ve assembled it. The seasoned meat carnitas de chancho with onions, cilantro and a green tomatillo sauce is also a must. Priced from $20,000 to $24,000 pesos, they are a savoury meal and should be accompanied by a tequila cocktail or spicy sangrita. The house listing of tequilas is very extensive, and like the food, region-specific.
Cantina y Punto has carefully selected some of Mexico’s most complex and savoury dishes as mains, such the Chiapas cochito confitado, in which oven-baked pork has been marinated in herbs, or a Puebla duck confit with chiles and cacao mole.
There are also vegetarian dishes, such as a Huitlacoche enchilada with green pipián chiles or a mushroom and coarse bean enfrijolada.
Even though chiles are an essential ingredient in Mexican food, the dishes in themselves are not hot. If you request additional heat, however, the kitchen will accommodate.
The wait staff are extremely knowledgeable as to what they offer and will guide through specifics, such as the history and origins of a certain dish.
“We wanted the name of our restaurant to be short and fun,” remarks Santiago as his main dining room buzzes with lunchtime clients. This enthusiasm and unpretentiousness also melds in the labourious processes which go into every bite.
And the experience doesn’t end with deserts and coffee. As brunch is big in Mexico, the restaurant offers a Sunday special menu with dishes such as green chilaquiles with fried egg or the chicken enfrijolada. There is also a menu for kids.
The restaurant’s prices are fair for the elaboration, the setting and the service. Most starters are in the $20,000 pesos range with mains between $28,000 and $35,000 pesos.
Bogotá’s restaurant scene has become increasingly demanding over the years, offering clients plenty of international selection. But with Mexican, it’s either been Tex-Mex or California-style fare. So it’s refreshing to have Cantina y Punto as a window on a country whose culinary techniques date back to the Mayas, Olmecs and Aztecs.
Cantina y Punto
Calle 66 No. 4A-33