A glossary. That does it for me on a restaurant’s menu, such as that of Leo Cocina y Cava in Bogota. Particularly when the ingredients being defined are of the food of that place. Many Latin American countries only vaguely know what is edible outside of their region of birth. You learn that name is a Caribbean tuber, that guayusa is a highly caffeinated Amazonian plant, and that cabeza de mico is a mix of shredded coconut and green banana that is common in the Afro-Colombian communities of Cordoba. The glossary tells me immediately that this chef, Leonor Espinosaa one time ecponomist and publicist, is a sort of culinary explorer, testing which ingredients work together, and which do not. In a place with the level of biodiversity of Colombia, this is important.
The restaurant resembles something of a sleek bordello. Red velvet pairs with tabletops decorated with pinup girls and old mastheads featuring sirens bearing their breasts. It’s this setting, a little unconventional and racy, yet still quite refined that sets up the menu so beautifully.
Ceviche is served with a coconut milk vinagrette, over mashed mango puree and a hierba buena sorbet with lime. You are told to add the sorbet, which sits in a spoon, to the mix rather than after you are done. It’s a little sweet and cold; a rare combination in ceviche. For a dish that is already quite refreshing, it becomes even more so. Carimeñolas are fried balls of smoked rabbit that has been sautéed with coconut milk, achiote, and ají dulce that are served with a salsa made of ají tucupi, a fiery jungle chile that is not used nearly enough in Colombia. Each dish brings a new revelation.
Colombia could easily become the next Peru or Brazil in terms of gastronomic diversity. The ingredients are there, though the cooking skill hasn’t arrived en mass just yet. Leo Cocina y Cava confirms it is only a matter of time.
Leo Cocina y Cava
Calle 27B, # 6-75
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.