The Plazoleta Giordano Bruno in Quinta Camacho (Carrera 9 with Calle 69A) has developed over the years into a specialized food haven, with cozy restaurants in renovated brick homes, offering a host of international foods from fusion Cuban at La Grande, to authentic Indian at Namaste, bowls of hearty Italian pasta at El Boliche and even an Argentine grill 69 Gauchos.
Lacking, however, in this district was a restaurant dedicated to a cornerstone of every American deli – smoked meat. Even though one could associate smoking meat as a type of barbecue, it has a very different origin, having arrived in North America with Eastern European immigrants and becoming a culinary art unto itself.
Once considered at the bottom of the list of desirability in many kitchens, for their toughness and fats, certain cuts of beef need to be slow-cooked in order to release their flavors, such as brisket (for corned beef and smoked meat), or navel plate for pastrami. Ready for the table, good smoked meat should always be tender and as tasty as can be. To get it right, you need lots of patience, the right kind of wood, and of course: a smoking pit.
Major cities across North America with large Jewish communities have great delis. Take Montreal with its legendary Reuben’s sandwich, a benchmark of all smoked foods, as one example. And when in New York, no visit is complete without trying pastrami on rye at Katz’s (pickle and coleslaw included). Now, Bogotá joins a long list of “smoked meat” cities after OAK opened its doors last month in a graceful house facing the Giordano Bruno park.
Behind this start-up is the Colombian-American chef Brian Aaron, owner of an award-winning catering company in Miami that takes his name, and who set his sights on opening his first restaurant in Bogotá because “gastronomy in Colombia is taking the world by storm.” The aim of OAK is to offer guests food prepared with North American technique, while at the same time, paying tribute to another tradition, cooking over firewood. “Across Colombia, wood is an essential part of cooking in rural homes,” says Brian, as I am offered the menu with refreshing lemonade.
Brian wants to make culinary connections with OAK by connecting the American pitmaster with the Colombian asador. In order to achieve the experience of a countryside grill in the heart of the city’s financial sector, he needed first to import “The Beast” – a special oven that weighs more than a ton, and design that has won awards in the United States. Overseeing that “The Beast” cooks to perfection is chef Rodrigo Pazos.
Brian also works the kitchen, adding the right amount of rub to the cuts, and adding a special “green touch” that shows this restaurant’s high regard for the freshest ingredients, and supporting local farmers. “A key ingredient in our cooking is to use only the freshest ingredients, and five varieties of wood used in smoking, that are certified as environmentally friendly,” says Brian, who founded La Huerta Bar, known for signature cocktails, such Corozo Mozo with lavender and wasabi, and – you guessed it – drinks with smoked fruits.
A star of OAK’s slow cooking process that lasts between two and 16 hours is the wood that feeds The Beast. To give specific dishes a subtle, fruity tone, wood from mango, grape and cherry trees are selected. “Pretty much everything can be smoked,” claims Brian, who also stresses that the restaurant is not a smokehouse, where food is grilled over hot coals. For Brian, it comes down to celebrating childhood memories: “We can all remember those trips to the farm, the smell of the fireplaces and sharing the most important aspect of the day – a meal with the family.” OAK is also affordable, with the average cost for the main course, ranging from $28,000 pesos to $35,000.
As La Huerta is located on the second floor, once you’ve enjoyed one of the house’s specialty dishes – the brisket with yuca purée comes highly recommended, or chicken breast rubbed in spices and served with garden greens, climb up the stairwell to enjoy a drink at the oak bar. “Oak is focused on unique concoctions,” claims Brian as the restaurant quickly fills with early lunch guests, and “for those who enjoy a combination of the artisanal and the new.”
This may be true, as the food is succulent, but sadly, as much as this restaurant succeeds, it retreats with disorganized, pretentious service.
OAK Ahumado y Brebajes Calle 69A No.10-15