masa

Despite having dined at Masa four times since the beginning of May, I have somehow avoided writing about it until now. I first learned about the Zona G bakery-slash-restaurant via my former coworker Kata. Although she was a self-professed fanatic of their lunch offerings, she was even more enthusiastic about their brunch. “It is the absolute best in the city,” she insisted. I filed her suggestion away for later.

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The first time I visited, I ate their foraged mushroom sandwich on rustic Italian bread with ooey-gooey fontina. On my second trip, I ordered the exact same thing. (Shameful, I know, but it was just too decadent to pass up.) The third time I visited, I gained the courage to try something new: their lime chicken sandwich on country sour bread with sauteed red peppers, arugula, and pesto. Topped off with a slice of carrot cake and an espresso, it was the perfect lunch.

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All summer I kept Kata’s suggestion at the back of my mind, and last weekend I finally dragged Seth to a proper brunch. At ten a.m. the line was six parties out the door, but I knew it would not be long before we were seated. (Colombians dine at an alarmingly rapid pace.) Sure enough, fifteen minutes later we placed our order. We first received two lattes and a basket of freshly baked goods of our choosing—two butter croissants, a mini baguette, an agráz danish with homemade sprinkles, and a cinnamon roll. The croissants were the best Seth and I had tried outside of Paris, while the baguette was simply delightful. The other two pastries we had to take home for later, along with a pair of pan au chocolat. For our main course, Seth ordered the Masa breakfast sandwich—a fancified Egg McMuffin with fluffy eggs, queso holandés, and crunchy bacon—while I ordered a spinach frittata. The sandwich was satisfyingly savory, while the frittata was ridiculously rich. One bite in, I instantly regretted not trying it sooner.

Moreso than their lunch, Masa’s brunch is surprisingly affordable. A frittata, croissant, and latte combo will only set you back about USD$6.75 (COP$7000 + COP$2000 + COP$3800 = COP$12800).

Masa might be one of Bogotá’s only brunch options (save for the neighborhood fruterías), but it is also hands-down the best. Spanish for “dough,” the bakery offers world-class breads and pastries. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, do not be intimidated by the wait; Masa vale la pena.

[Masa: Calle 70 # 4-83, Bogotá-Colombia]

les amis bizcochería

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Les Amis Bizcochería is a sugar lover’s paradise near Parque Virrey. Seth and I initially tried to visit on October 5, but the bakery was closed for renovations. The owner was sitting outside passing out pastries to disappointed customers as an incentive for our eventual return. After devouring a mini quiche lorraine, a mini quiche florentine, and a petite carrot cake, Seth and I vowed to return the following Saturday.

On our second trip, we selected a wide variety of goodies: a mini mazorca and ahuyama quiche, a mini mushroom quiche, a sweet onion tart, a beef empanada, a pan au chocolat, a guayaba cake, a feijoa cake, and a chocolate cone filled with arequipe.

My recommendation: on a sunny afternoon, grab a couple of sweet and savory pastries—perhaps a mini mazorca and ahuyama quiche, a beef empanada, and a petite carrot cake—and head for Parque Virrey. Along the way, stop for an iced latte at the Juan Valdez at Carrera 15 and Calle 87. Take your box of treats and your cup of caffeine to the park, watch the puppies frolic, and enjoy the day.

[Les Amis Bizcochería: Carrera 14 # 86A – 12, Bogotá-Colombia]

bubble tea in bogotá

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That’s right. Just as Seth and I found a bubble tea shop in Paris, we found one in Bogotá.

A few months ago our friend Jeremy recommended that we visit the Bubble Tea Bar in Container City, a refurbished shipping container alcove near Parque 93. We put it off and put it off until two weeks ago when a foiled plan to visit nearby bakery Les Amis forced us to find another place to satisfy our sweet teeth. I remembered Jeremy’s suggestion, and we decided to give it a shot.

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Surrounded by Italian, Japanese, and Mediterranean restaurants and coffee, frozen yogurt, and tea shops, the Bubble Tea Bar is a bright niche in the corner of Container City’s interior courtyard. We located it easily and scanned the menu. Despite the array of options—black tea, green tea, or fruit; gel, pudding, or tapioca; light, regular, or extra sugar; light, regular, or extra ice; etc.—we opted for a round of no-nonsense milk tea with tapioca.

Our verdict: the drink was too light on the tea and too heavy on the cream. All things considered, though, the Bubble Tea Bar (and Container City in general) was an enjoyable experience. The Bubble Tea Bar’s product may not be the best, but it will certainly do in a pinch.

[Container City: Calle 93 # 12 – 11, Bogotá-Colombia]

caryn arrives

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At the end of August Seth and I were overjoyed to welcome our first visitor to Bogotá. Caryn, one of our closest classmates from architecture school, stepped off her plane a little after midnight on Thursday night. The three of us promptly shuffled into a taxi, took a celebratory shot of Aguardiente, and went to sleep in preparation for busy days ahead.

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For her first day in the city, Seth and I wanted to show Caryn some of the major touristy sites. We were a bit worried that because of the ongoing paros (strikes) we would not be able to forge our way into the city center. However, on Friday morning President Santos deployed some 50,000 troops across the country “to assure normality,” thus making our stroll to the Plaza Simón Bolivar a cakewalk. We started our morning with a chocolate completo at La Puerta Falsa, followed by a quick visit to the Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez. Around one in the afternoon our friend Jeremy met us in the Plaza, and we proceeded to hike up Avenida Jiménez to the Monserrate cable car station. The weather was chilly and rainy, but lucky for us it cleared up just long enough to snap a few photos at the top. When it got cold again, we stopped at a food stall for some fried cow organs, potatoes, and plantains.

Feeling cold, wet, and tired, we took the cable car back down to the city and ducked into an artisan alcove in La Candelaria for a round of coffee. We browsed the goods for mochilas and other souvenirs for Caryn’s friends and family but to no avail. Jeremy then headed home while Caryn, Seth, and I wandered around La Macarena and admired Rogelio Salmona’s brick architecture. For dinner we enjoyed small bites and pan con tomate at Tapas Macarena, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Boogtá. The highlights of the evening included a peppery Tempranillo, jamón serrano gran reserva (18-month cured serrano ham), champiñones queso azul (mushrooms in a blue cheese sauce), pinchos de pollo Ketjap (chicken skewers in an Indonesian soy and peanut sauce), and langostinos cajun (cajun shrimp).

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Saturday, of course, was the first day of college football season. While Seth watched the Rice vs. A&M game, Caryn and I ate lunch at my beloved neighborhood corrientazo and drank beer in La Zona T. She had read about the Bogotá Beer Company in one of her travel guides, so we stopped in for a pint of Monserrate Roja (her) and Cajica Miel (me). After some much-needed girl talk, we returned home for a low-key evening of wine, cheese, and a movie.

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Sunday was probably my favorite day of the entire visit. Caryn, Seth, and I started the morning at home with a strong cup of coffee and decadent Nutella toast before walking fifty blocks along the Ciclovía route to Usaquén. There we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Abasto, which consisted of sparkling Chilean wine, fresh-baked focaccia, grilled octopus in a summer vegetable ratatouille, and shrimp in an achiote-coconut sauce with plantain puree and starfruit. In order to recover from our food comas, we grabbed a round of espresso and explored the neighborhood shops. Caryn bought a painting, two tins of Colombian coffee, and I think eight jars of tropical fruit jams. Meanwhile, Seth and I finally found the perfect autumn-colored mochila for his mother. Exhausted from spending the entire day out and about, we opted for another relaxing night in.

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On Monday the three of us skipped breakfast in favor of a colossal lunch at Fulanitos, a vallecaucano restaurant. I insisted that Caryn order the bandeja, as it is one of the most traditional and iconic dishes in the country. Seth followed suit. All of those meats and starches, plus a serving of lulada, had everyone stuffed. Somehow, though, we were able to walk the fifty blocks along Calle 63 to the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco. After admiring more of Salmona’s architecture, we continued over to the Parque Simón Bolivar and then to the Jardín Botánico. We were a little cold, wet, and grumpy due to the rain, but we managed to flag down a buseta and warm up in the comfort of our apartment. Since it was Caryn’s last full night in the city, we decided that it was only right to celebrate with pizza, wine, and grappa at one of our favorite spots, Julia in Zona G.

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Caryn’s last day included a series of snacks. We first stopped into a frutería for avena (a milk and oatmeal drink), jugo (juice), and buñuelos (fried doughy balls). We then walked to 7 de agosto—first, to have a look at the various tropical fruits in stock and second, to sample an ensalada de frutas (fruit salad), jugo de feijoa (pineapple guava juice), and jugo de maracuyá (passionfruit juice). For our next stop, we braved the violent hail for Restaurante Las Margaritas‘s famous empanaditas. We finished off our day of local flavor with a visit to Café Devotion (La Botica de Café) for a gourmet coffee tasting. Caryn, Seth, and I returned to our apartment with enough time for our visitor to pack and for us to say our goodbyes. Quite appropriately, on the way to the airport we just so happened to hire the most erratic and unstable of drivers, thus catapulting Caryn back to the United States in true Colombian fashion.

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bogotá barbecue

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Feeling exhausted from our job hunt and nostalgic for Texas summers, Seth and I went in search of some good ol’-fashioned barbecue. If you recall correctly, the only positive experience we’d had of smoked meats in Colombia was during our trip to Chía—nine months ago. I had recently read about La Fama, a restaurant in our neighborhood owned by a Colombian with devout respect for North American barbecue. (He reportedly flew Tom Mylan and Brent Young of Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook into Bogotá to serve as consultants!) Needless to say, we were looking for any opportunity to sample the fare.

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The place was a bit difficult to find, mostly due to my error in writing down the address. As soon as we stepped into the covered porch, though, we felt our stomachs grumble in response to the heavenly aroma of wood chips, smoked meat, and tangy sauce. Our host led us to one of the only non-reserved tables available (Reservations at a barbecue establishment? What?!), and we immediately ordered two iced teas. Sweet but not Wanda Neuvar sweet, the sugary drink hit the spot just right. We then followed up with an order of jalapeño and pepper jack cheese sausages. As we enjoyed the sausages’ surprising amount of spice and flavor, our eyes wandered around the space. The exposed brick walls, coupled with the picnic tables and barbecue pit, really made the restaurant feel legitimately rustic. Seth watched group after group order a round of draft beer, and before he knew it he was summoning our waiter for a Club Colombia of his very own.

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Soon came the real star of any barbecue restaurant: the barbecue! The menu suggests each person spend about COP$40,000 (US$20), so for our bandeja we ordered three meats—morillo (hump, or moist brisket), pecho (lean brisket), and cerdo desmechado (pulled pork)—with two sides—mac and cheese and papas criollas  con suero ahumado y chimichurri (bite-sized Colombian potatoes with smoked sour cream and chimichurri). Because the barbecue sauce predictably leaned on the sweet and tangy side à la North Carolina, it paired best with the oh-so-tender pulled pork. Both cuts of brisket were perfectly delicious, but we were especially impressed by the sides; the mac and cheese was smoky and rich, while the papas criollas introduced a pleasant Colombian spin on the Texan staple of potato salad. With no room left for dessert, we waddled out of the restaurant sa-tis-fied.

La Fama is good barbecue, period. New York or North Carolina, Texas or Colombia, this establishment holds its own.

[first photo courtesy of Carlos Beltrán and La Fama]

[La Fama: Calle 65 BIS # 4-85, Bogotá-Colombia]

on cuisine, class, and change

kolache_Prague

When I was planning my 2011 visit to the Czech Republic, I dreamed of kolache bakeries on every corner. I thought I would eat some schnitzel with gravy, some stroganoff with rice, some goulash with potatoes, and all of the soft and sweet breakfast pastries I could ever want. Feeling homesick for Texas, I was beyond excited to have some familiar, authentic Czech cuisine.

When I arrived in Prague, however, I quickly learned that my expectations were a bit… off. I only found one koláče bakery in the entire city—and trust me, I had to hunt for it. (Meanwhile, the koláče bakery in Hukvaldy strictly served unfamiliar pizza-sized versions.) I saw no sign of schnitzel nor stroganoff. I ordered my hovězí guláš with a side of bread dumplings. Most frequently, I dined on a dish I had never even heard of in all my years: svíčková, which consisted of braised beef, a sort of sweet gravy, cranberries, and whipped cream. On more than one occasion, Seth enjoyed a whole fried trout. But the most surprising discovery of all was the exorbitant amount of Neapolitan-style pizza.

When I was growing up, the majority of my friends ate very “American” family dinners of chicken pot pie, meatloaf, or pot roast. My friend Ashley, whose mother was from Scotland, often helped her mom make bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie. My friend Kathryn, whose maternal grandparents were from Italy, attended weekly pasta al pomodoro dinners with her extended family. When I had the pleasure of staying at my grandmother’s house over the weekend, I ate one of my favorites—veal schnitzel (which my grandmother lovingly dubbed “chicken fried steak”) with brown gravy and a side of white rice. At a young age I was well aware of heritage cuisine, so I assumed that while Ashley’s family’s food was distinctly Scottish and Kathryn’s family’s food was distinctly Italian, my family’s food was distinctly Czech. It was not until I visited the Czech Republic that I learned that our food was not really Czech at all.

Last night while watching a season-two episode of “The Sopranos,” I was intrigued by a scene on cuisine and class. Italian-American Paulie visits the Motherland for the first time, and he is uncomfortable with the local cuisine. Having eaten veal parm, baked ziti, and cannelloni his whole life, he is displeased with the seemingly foreign cuisine in front of him. Linguine with clams and squid ink? I’ll pass, he thinks. He calls the waiter over to the table. “Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?” Realizing that the waiter is confused, a dining companion looks at Paulie and says, “He doesn’t know what you say.” Paulie looks at his dining companion incredulously. “Gravy! Gravy! Tomato sauce!” he says with emphasis. The dining companion and the waiter go back and forth, while a third customer mumbles with frustration and annoyance, “And you thought the Germans were classless pieces of shit!”

When Paulie’s Sicilian family emigrated to New York sometime during the Great Wave of 1880-1920, they brought with them their peasant foods: pasta, rice, gnocchi, bread, and tomato sauce. When they realized financial success in America, however, they continued their economical methods of cooking out of tradition and familiarity. Thus their recollection of Italian food was essentially stuck in a particular moment in time; what they perceived to be authentic was no longer so. One hundred years later, many so-called “old school” Italian-Americans still consider the more delicate, labor-intensive counterparts of their contemporary cuisine—for example, baby octopus, beef sirloin carpaccio, and agnolotti—to be little more than trendy distractions.

bandeja paisa

I predict that in one hundred years, Colombian-Americans will experience the same bewilderment and difficulties in trying to accept their native country’s evolved foods. In Colombia pechuga a la plancha (grilled chicken breast), pollo al horno (baked chicken), chuleta de cerdo (pork chop), sobrebarriga (flank steak), and higado (liver) will no longer be accompanied by today’s beans, rice, salted potato, plantain, and yucca; it is possible that they will not be served at all. In a century’s time the factors that currently prevent Colombia’s cuisine from developing—that is, rampant poverty and inadequate infrastructure—will likely fade. Poor Colombians will get richer and winding roads will get straighter, thus (literally) paving the way for more seafood, produce, and plant protein. Meanwhile, those immigrants who set up shop in Miami will raise their kids on familiar meats and starches, and in turn their kids will raise their kids on familiar meats and starches, and so on until traditional Colombian cuisine becomes inauthentic and modern Colombian cuisine becomes unrecognizable. The bandeja paisa—Colombia’s national dish, at a mere 60 years old—will long remain a fixture in Colombian-American homes, despite its irrelevance in the urbanized Motherland.

home brunch

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Saturday was our portfolio kickoff, so to get us going Seth and I woke up early to prepare a satisfying pre-work brunch.

We munched on crêpes with leeks, Greek yogurt, and chives; home fries; a Finnish baked pancake with strawberries; and of course, berry mimosas. We were stuffed.

The next day our last Macbook charger died, so I had to semi-sprint to the “Mac Store” after today’s lunch break to buy a replacement. After spending COP$190,000 (US$100) on this technological necessity, I am sad to reveal that our dining-out budget has been sacrificed. In other words, you can expect more home-cookin’ blog entries in the month of June.

villa de leyva

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After our week-long vacation in Salento, Seth and I promised ourselves we would spend more time exploring Colombia. Thus we decided to spend our most recent puente (May 11-13) in Villa de Leyva, a small colonial town about three hours outside of Bogotá. (You might recognize the town’s name from the painting that we gifted my mom and Ken for Christmas!)

Seth and I woke up early on Saturday morning, took the Transmilenio to the Terminal Norte, took a second bus to Tunja, then took a third bus to Villa de Leyva. Just as our last collectivo began to shake from the transition between the smooth, paved roads of the highways to the rocky, raw “roads” of Villa de Leyva, a fellow passenger yelled, “Bienvenidos a Boyacá!” Everyone laughed.

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We arrived in the center of the town around two, found our hostel near Parque Nariño, and immediately set out in search of lunch. Since the weather was nice, we chose a restaurant in the interior courtyard of Casa Quintero, an open-house collection of eateries and boutiques on the southwest face of the Plaza Mayor. At Tierra Buena we enjoyed flavorful (!) dishes of trucha Villa de Leyva (trout with green olives, onions, and plenty of cilantro) and pechuga con jalapeños y cilantro while sipping on a pair of cervezas bien frias. Just as our food arrived, clouds suddenly began to collect and rain began to pour. While the rest of our dining companions sought the warmth and dryness of the indoors, Seth and I remained outside, huddling under our big red umbrella and listening to a couple of gringo guitarists practice their evening set in English.

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After lunch we snapped some photos in the plaza, strolled along the roughly cobbled streets, and ducked into some artisan shops. We stumbled upon one particularly well-edited boutique which offered only the most beautiful mochilas Arhuacas and handmade jewelry. I wondered why the shops in Bogotá were not as carefully curated.

On Saturday evening we found another courtyard collection of eateries and boutiques, so we decided to sit down for some red wine and live music. Rain began to pour (yet again), but Seth and I were able to find a table under a covered patio next to a warm fireplace. Al fresco dining is surprisingly hard to come by in Bogotá, especially outside the luxury zones of the Zona G and Zona Rosa, so we were especially thankful to have two consecutive affordable experiences.

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The next day we woke up before seven and walked the town in search of breakfast. We decided upon a particular outdoor cafe that I had researched called El Patio Van Gogh. The restaurant/hangout was basically an open lot, which had been dotted with a small outdoor kitchen and a series of picnic tables. Seth and I both ordered the Changua Boyacense, a breakfast soup which consisted of milk, two eggs, almojábana, queso paipa, and cilantro pesto. Served with a hot cup of café con leche, it was by far the most delicious breakfast I had eaten in all of Colombia. I was in culinary heaven.

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Bellies full, we began our six-kilometer hike to El Fósil, a museum with an almost complete, 120 million year-old kronosaurus fossil on display, in the same place in which it was found in 1977. Along the way we were surprised by how much the weather and scenery changed. During our short hike we traveled from the slightly humid climate of Villa de Leyva to an extremely hot and dry, desert-like landscape. I was glad to have my new Colombian fedora with me, even if it was only wide enough to shield my face—not my shoulders—from the sun’s intense rays.

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We explored the museum for a bit, then sat down for a snack of longaniza con plátano maduro. We then continued along the path to the Estación Astronómica Muisca (El Infiernito). The Spanish named the Muisca Astronomic Observatory—basically, a Stonehenge lite—”Little Hell” because of its many phallic monoliths, a tribute to male fertility.

Sweaty and sunburned, Seth and I walked back to town and prepared to go out for drinks and dinner. We chose a combo boutique/restaurant on one of the two exclusively pedestrian streets, ordered a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, and relaxed. Post wine, we were hankering for some complex carbohydrates and cheese, so we walked to a little Italian restaurant, La Ricotta, for a calorie fest. Shortly after scarfing down a bowl of Tagliatelle della Zarina (tagliatelle with salmon, vodka, paprika, and pomodoro), I was ready to call it a night.

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On Monday morning we returned to El Patio Van Gogh for a tropical breakfast of assorted fruits before boarding a direct bus back to Bogotá. Our trip to Villa de Leyva was exactly what we had wanted it to be: relaxing but slightly eventful. We came home with satisfied stomachs and fond memories.

To see more pictures from Villa de Leyva, click here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/aclearglimmer/sets/72157633552077266/

 

[Tierra Buena: Casa Quintero, Plaza Mayor, Villa de Leyva-Colombia]

[El Patio Van Gogh: Calle 13, Villa de Leyva-Colombia]

[La Ricotta: Carrera 10a # 11-49, Villa de Leyva-Colombia ]

diana garcia: chef en movimiento

The weekend of May 4-5 brought Bogotá a welcome slice of sunshine. It seemed as if the supposed rainy month had lasted at least two, so Seth and I jumped on the unexpected opportunity to dine al fresco.

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Although we had been there before, we chose to have lunch at Restaurante Diana Garcia, a continental restaurant with a covered patio just outside the Zona G. I pass Diana Garcia every morning on my way to work, and every morning it taunts me with its sweet smells of baked goods. If it’s not La Hamburguesería or Crepes & Waffles, though, my coworkers are simply not interested; I instead resolved to drag Seth on my quest to get to know this adorable alcove.

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Seth was not disappointed. The first time we decided to have lunch at Diana Garcia, we both ordered wraps—he, the chicken melt and I, the French wrap. The second time, we both ordered sandwiches—he, the house spin on a chicken salad sandwich (triple de pollo en pan de miga) and I, the house interpretation of a BLT (California). Served on bright white plates, the food is reminiscent of that of a spa—clean, colorful, and quasi-healthy. It is the perfect “ladies who lunch” spot, minus the mimosas.

[Diana Garcia: Carrera 7 # 70-94, Bogotá-Colombia]