Warning: the following post is littered with cheesy Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory lyrics. An intense chocolate or arepa craving may occur after reading.
‘Cause I’ve got a golden ticket.
I’ve got a golden chance to make my way.
And with a golden ticket, it’s going to be a golden day!
After an hour ride through the traffic of Bogota, in a taxi equipped with a mini tv that played exclusively early 90s rock videos (or almost exclusively. Creed did make an appearance), we arrived at the restaurant that everyone had told us was not to be missed when we visited Colombia: Andres Carne de Res
Christmas lights and neon signs blaze the path to the restaurant. Several other bars and restaurants beckon the drivers to “stop here” with their inviting twinkle lights and thumping Cumbia and Salsa beats. But most diners keep driving until they reach the mecca of all restaurants.
“Come with me,
And you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination…”
Willy Wonka could have easily been singing about this restaurant instead of his chocolate wonderland.
You need a ticket to enter, and it just so happens it’s gold.
The air outside of the restaurant is restless. There’s no time to waste, you must get inside and begin exploring
“If you want to view paradise.
Simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to, do it…”
Bric-a-brac and flaming hearts hang from the ceiling, angels with trumpets and large candles dripping wax over a mid-century juke box (that’s filled with more bric-a-brac) tease the eye. I can guarantee you’ve never been in a restaurant so kitche, yet somehow it’s the over-the-top flare that’s appealing.
We joined a table with some friends I had been put in touch with via Facebook. Gaeleen Quinn is a proud Colombian who started a Food & Wine festival in Bogota three years ago because she felt it was time people started paying attention to the food scene that is burgeoning in Colombia. She was the perfect host to dine with, as she wanted to make sure we tasted the best bits the restaurant has to offer.
We ordered drinks, which turned out to be bowls of alcohol. Mojitos were served in coconut husks, large enough to dip your face into, and would do, if you finished the whole thing. l had a passion fruit daquiri (yes, I do daquiris) which was at least a quarts worth of frozen tropical hangover in a cup. It was delicious.
Within a few minutes of sitting down, an accordion player, a trumpet player and a cat man came over to our table to welcome the virgins (to the restaurant!) with sashes and crowns. The cat man proceeded to fake light up a cigarette and then stood there with a non-chalance, as if he were in a mafia movie, waiting on a dark cobblestone street, standing under a lone street lamp, waiting for his next hit assignment. He was a cool cat.
They danced around us and played music at our table and then threw hundreds of yellow paper butterflies in the air that floated down around us like late autumn leaves. We had crowns! And sashes! And butterflies! I was tickled with the restaurant before I had even tasted the food.
We opened the gigantic menus, which would have easily overwhelmed me had I not been given recommendations nor had Gaeleen been there to guide us. I was hesitant to order arepas, a ubiquitous corn “pancake” that is common street food and accompanies almost any meal you order in a restaurant. Often dry and mealy, the only redeeming factor is that it comes slathered in butter and cheese. I tried every arepa that crossed my path, and every time, I was perplexed at why everyone had insisted I eat arepas in Colombia. But I did as I was told and ordered the arepa de choclo.
It turns out that arepa de choclo is something worth traveling for! I picked up a wedge of the arepa and the queso fresco stretched from half way across the table to my plate. We could have made a commercial with this arepa, highlighting the stretchy abilities of this cheese; no food stylist required. The arepa was soft and light, much different than the heavier, denser pucks I had been eating on the streets. The variety of corn that is used in this arepa is naturally sweet. Think southern (North America) cornbread, the sweet kind, laden with butter. That’s kinda what the arepa tasted like, only sandwiched around gooey cheese. I wish I didn’t have to share with the other people at the table…
All my friends who sent emails with recommendations urged me not to forget the chicharrons. Um, ok. I like fried pork fat as much as the next truck driver! I’ve eaten my fare share of pork rinds around the world, but Andres Carne de Res has perhaps the most perfect version I’ve ever tasted. These have a golden ratio of pork meat left attached to the fat, so after being fried, the meat is crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside. And the fat cap is a fluffy pillow that is neither styrofoam-y nor crack-your-teeth dense (like most other chicharrons). I ate those lard bits like it was my birthday.
After a few other astoundingly delicious fried starters that I smothered with the house salsas, we moved on to the mains.
I had heard of a technique used in Colombia where they wrap meat in cloth and then set it in embers to cook. Once the package is thoroughly charred black, and rested, the meat is ready for chomping. Lomo al trapo. So we ordered the tenderloin cooked in this manner and a giant T-bone as well, charred to a beautiful medium-rare. Had I not been with a completely new group of friends, I would have picked the bone up and gnawed it clean. But I feigned class instead.
The meats came with the tiniest potatoes, about the size of “bowler” marbles. They were roasted into buttery starch submission. They are like the baby veals of the Yukon gold variety. Supple.
After noshing on the tastiest food we had on our quick 9 day jaunt through Colombia, we joined the hundreds of people Salsa-ing on the dance floors (Andres Carne de Res serves thousands of diners each evening and even more come to just dance). The crowd of people, young and old, were all extremely good looking. I mean, like, really really good looking. The stereotype of attractive women should just be changed to a blanket statement that Colombians are attractive, period.
Great food, strong drinks, music that makes you want to shake your hips with other people shaking their hips…I can’t think of a finer restaurant I’d like to revisit. If you go to Bogota and skip going to Chia’s Andres Carne de Res, you’ve made a major error in life.
“Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it in dew, cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two?”
Calle 3 # 11-56 Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Colombia
|(0)1 863 7880|