Leo Cocina y Cava, Bogotá
March 3, 2011
Leonor Espinosa has become a local food celebrity since opening her Leo Cocina y Cava in the main business district of Bogotá a few years ago. She says: “cooking must be conceived from an artistic point of view, made with authenticity, and the original flavours of its ingredients.” For Leonor, authenticity means traditional Colombian dishes, particularly those from the Caribbean coast around Cartagena from where she originates.
Linda and I went for lunch on February 14, 2011. (Valentine’s Day is not observed in Colombia and the restaurant was only half full.) It is in a small, old building on a little stone-paved alley just off one of Bogotá’s main boulevards.
The interior décor is a startling contrast: stark modern with clashing colors and erotic art. The friendly and helpful staff is dressed in conservative dark suits.
After we were seated, a special house martini was proposed to us, but we have to be careful at this 8,200 foot (2,500 meter) altitude and just ordered glasses of Tio Pepe. The headwaiter helped us navigate the quite large menu. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Merlot Cuvee Alexander, Lapostelle, Valle de Colchagua, Chile. This special cuvee was richer than the Casa Lapostelle merlot we had enjoyed the day before, but I think suffered from insufficient aging.
An amuse-gueule of a fried green banana chip topped with exotic fruit arrived.
Fruit is an essential part of Leonor’s cuisine and gave a slightly sweet effect to all the dishes we had except the kid.
Our shared first course was
Tentáculos de pulpo asados al carbón con ajo y limón. Servidos con espárragos asados.
The octopus tentacles had been nicely charred, as you can see from the black color, but they were still moist and flavorful inside. The garlic and lemon sauce went very well.
Our second course was
Colita de langosta al carbón acompañada de salsa de ajíes ahumados y cabeza de mico con tintura de de calamar y coco rallado
The grilled tail of a Caribbean lobster was delicious, enhanced by the sauce of smoked chilis. The rolls were filled with a puree of sansapote, a usually disregarded fruit from northern Colombia, and enclosed in something blackened with squid ink. They were topped with freshly grated coconut.
Linda’s main course was
Chuletón de cerdo asado con hierbas, servido con reducción de jabuticaba y oporto, acompañado de chachafruto crocante y cebada perlada cocido estilo risotto con vino blanco y hogo u ahogo.
The grilled pork chop was herbed and served with a reduction of port and jabuticaba, the fruit of a South American tree. The chips were of chachafruto a huge South American bean. The pearl barley risotto with tomato was excellent.
My main course was
Pernil de cabrito marinado en cerveza, cilantro, cebolla larga y ajo. Cocido lentamente al horno en sus jugos y servido con pure de arracacha y arveja
The shank of young goat was marinated in beer, cilantro, spring onions and garlic. It was then slowly cooked in the oven in its marinade. It was tender with a lovely flavor. It was served with an excellent puree of arracacha, an Andean root vegetable whose cooked flavor has been described as: “a delicate blend of celery, cabbage and roast chestnuts”. This was topped with a puree of peas topped with crisp cornmeal shards. Copious and very good.
Dúo de flan de leche y coco servido con postre de natas sobre mile de maracuyá frambuesas frescas y canela molida
A coconut milk flan is served with a traditional cream custard, topped with raspberries and napped with a cinnamon sauce. Excellent.
While we were enjoying dessert the chef came out of the kitchen to share some wine with friends.
To finish we were offered glasses of the house coffee-based digestif.
Our lunch was very good. The consistant respect for Colombian ingredients and traditions in modern formats was impressive. The pace and service were just right. We recommend Leo Cocina y Cava. Brava.