Restaurant Review for Criterion
Review by: Ollie O
Rating: 4.2 stars
Review Date: 08/07/2017
Why is Criterión unique?French warfare capabilities may have diminished significantly since Napoleon screwed up at Waterloo, but the French by all accounts do two things really well. They are highly proficient winemakers. And they cook. Man, oh Man! Can they cook?Maybe all that high-falootin formality of “haute cuisine” is a thing of the past. But a classic French dish, properly prepared is still a thing of beauty. Yes. It’s somewhat painful for the rest of us to admit it, but the majority of the world’s great chefs were born or raised in France.Oddly, restaurants serving French cuisine are a rarity in Latin America. In our coverage of the five largest Spanish speaking cities in Latin America we’ve only run across a handful of what we’d consider legitimate contenders for upscale French cuisine.We've now added Criterión in Bogotá to that short of list of restaurants.True, brothers Jorge and Mark Rausch throw in a bit of local personality. But about half the menu is either a classic French dish or a minor variation of one.In a city where the high-end dining is dominated by cooks utilizing unique local fruits and vegetables, or by Latin American chefs from other countries that have brought their regional cuisines to Bogotá, a restaurant where you can enjoy classic French dishes and technique is a breath of fresh air.Ambiance? Criterión is dimly lit and was full on the night of my visit so we pilfered photos of the dining area and bar from the restaurant’s website and from the public domain. Please note that the photos shown were taken at the time when the restaurant had a slightly sharper edge than it does today. The dining room is showing signs of wear and tear. The fabric on the upholstered benches needs a good cleaning.That said, the décor is, for the most part, sleek and elegant. In an otherwise contemporary décor, the “books in the library” wallpaper in one room is oddly out of place, as are the ornate chandeliers in the front window. Save the occasional design faux pas, the restaurant has a pleasing and somewhat elegant ambiance.Suit clad waiters provide almost flawless service. There were moments when there were minor lapses at the peak of the chaos when the room was full. But overall, a stellar performance.I ordered seared scallops as an appetizer and the classic French peasant dish, Boeuf Bourguignon, for the main course.But first, a basket full of slices of unique and tasty French country loaves with a couple of compound butters were served in a small basket. Probably the best bread I’ve tasted at a restaurant in Latin America. Ultra-crusty on the outside and ultra-soft like a pillow inside. Great technique.On the appetizer, the scallops were flawlessly seared. Big scallops. The kind you see on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” before he throws them in the face of some timid tattooed cook for not searing them correctly. It’s rare to see big, scrumptious scallops like that in Latin America. The creamy corn sauce accompanying the scallop and the other small additions added complexity to the dish. This was a well-conceived and perfectly executed appetizer.Despite being a dish with humble beginnings, the beef stew, Boeuf Bourguignon, is a complex dish that is difficult to prepare.An inexpensive cut of beef with lots of connective tissue is typically braised in wine for eight hours or more at a very low temperature until the connective tissue breaks down and the meat becomes fork-tender. The braising liquid is then reduced to provide a rich sauce. And all of this is either served, along with accompanying vegetables (traditionally, pearl onions and mushrooms) on a potato mash or noodles.This particular rendition was served with bits of pork belly, mushrooms and spinach on a creamy potato puree. The time required to correctly cook each of the ingredients varies with each ingredient. The beef in this dish was supposedly braised for 72 hours. Yet the spinach, if properly cooked, requires only a few seconds to wilt. These varied cooking times and the many elements in the dish create lots of possibilities for lapses of execution.And with this dish at Criterión, there were some minor lapses. One of three large pieces of beef had been rendered somewhat dry by the long cooking process and both the mushrooms and spinach were slightly overcooked. Minor errors, but errors nonetheless.In our rating, the fact that the cooks undertook to prepare the dish in the first place, offsets this minor lapse of execution. Thus, the high creativity rating.For dessert, I tried the Sorpreso de Café #2 (The Coffee Surprise), which I would describe as a whimsical (and delicious) take on a chilled Latte poured over a small chocolate cookie. That cookie was the luscious chewy texture of a brownie on the inside, but slightly crisp on the outside, even after being submersed in a rich creamy coffee mixture. Way better than a Starbucks Frappucino, or a MooLatte at Dairy Queen, for that matter.Reservations with automatic confirmation can be made at the restaurant's website. Regrettably, there is no menu posted.French cooking chops are a rare sight in Latin America. The Rausch brothers have brought their take on the genre to Bogotá. The restaurant is showing signs of being a bit long in the tooth but that doesn’t seem to keep the patrons from frequenting the place. It was packed on a Thursday night by 9 p.m.