Restaurant Review for Elcielo - Bogotá
Review by: Ollie O
Rating: 4.6 stars
Review Date: 08/09/2017
For the inauguration of our coverage of Bogotá’s restaurant and bar scene we visited most of Bogotá’s best upscale dining spots, including Elcielo. At the hand of a young and creative chef, Juan Manuel Barrientos (“Juanma”), Elcielo has received a great deal of recognition and praise, so I was looking forward to sampling the Chef’s offerings.Elcielo’s dining area is one small room, bathed with light from overhead windows, with about ten tables seating approximately 50 diners. The back wall of the room is filled with lush vegetation. The furnishings are wood and leather. These design elements, along with some meditation-inducing background music, transport you to a peaceful place in the Amazonian jungle. Or at least I think that’s the intention.Elcielo offers only a tasting menu, typically 12 courses or so. In addition, they offer something a bit unique. You have the option of adding a sensory experience that includes some spa-like hand exfoliation and moisturizing with natural ingredients that adds to the serene zen-like experience.I’ve expressed my dislike for restaurants serving tasting menus, especially when a la carte selections are not available as an alternative. There’s something about being forced into experiencing two or three unappetizing or inedible courses at twice what you’d pay for a typical dinner that rubs me the wrong way. And I had exactly that experience at both Bogotá in Santiago and at El Baqueano in Buenos Aires.But, fortunately, the experience at Elcielo wasn’t accompanied by those shortcomings. Every course was appetizing and the cost of the meal, if you exclude the sensory experience, is much less than you’d paid for three a la carte items at nearby Criterión or Rafael.The presentation is impressive with the whole experience aimed at transporting you to that peaceful place in the jungle.To start the meal, I was served three small vessels of cocktails, including what I think was a dark toasted coconut rum concoction and a Bellini with fresh peach pulp and sparkling wine.A pepper-laced brioche bread and a local bread made with arracacha and cheese were served wrapped in a colorful handmade cloth, accompanied by almond butter, a corn chutney and a spicy cayenne dipping sauce. That was followed by a puffy corn pastry filled with a creamy corn filling and a snack course with savory crisp crackers made with exotic ingredients.The creamy spinach soup, that included a picante relish of sweet tomatoes, “lemon tears” and bits of ricotto pepper, topping a slice of charred potato, was delicious. A single jumbo prawn bathed in a bright orange carrot sauce, on a swatch of octopus ink, with a tart dried tomato powder continued adding impact to the already impressive.There was more to come in the form of a fish and quinoa dish that was topped by a dark green leaf dusted with a charred powder. The dish appeared a bit murky and unappetizing as evidenced by the photo in the image slider, but it tasted great despite the appearance.Up next was the star the of the show, a meat course featuring an outstanding preparation of pork belly in a luscious sweet and spicy sauce, accompanied by three corn meal tuiles, fashioned into the shape of bright yellow butterflies. This course was prefaced by placing a copy of Cien años de Soledad” (100 years of Solitude), the masterpiece novel by Colombia’s most famous writer, Gabriel García Marquez, on the table. The acclaimed novel has passages referring to flocks of yellow butterflies. Thus, the chef has, through this dish, brought awareness to the diners of the brilliant artistic capabilities of native Colombians. I found it an interesting addition to the meal.After a palette cleanser, two interesting and delicious desserts would follow. That last dessert was a fudge-consistency chocolate ganache, topped with a tart sorbet made from a tropical citric fruit known as lulo in Colombia, and naranjilla in other South and Central American countries. Small crisp, sugar-coated yuca sticks added sweetness and texture. The dessert was as delicious as it was beautiful.The grand finale was the presentation of a cup of high-quality Colombian coffee, brewed tableside, with a flashy presentation that sent clouds billowing across the table and the coffee-cup, mimicking the fog and clouds in the Andean mountains and Amazonian lowlands. It was an impressive finale to an interesting meal.Despite my aversion to this type of dog and pony show, I must admit, I was impressed and a bit taken in by the whole show.My waiter, Jaime, who spoke very good English, explained each course and answered all questions without a hitch. The service by the entire staff was flawless. Every plate was retrieved within seconds of my completion of each course. Forks and spoons appropriately exchanged immediately between each course. This flawless service only added to the otherwise pleasant experience. I didn’t feel hurried as is often the case with these tasting menus, nor did I feel that the service lagged. The whole service progressed just as it should have.I didn’t go for the wine pairing, but I did review the wine list. Excellent labels from a variety of countries. The wine pairing is about US$45 (COP$135K) for six paired servings, US$30 (COP$90K) for four servings.The cost for the full menu (excluding the sensory experience) was a nominal US$36 (COP$108K). That's a value, making Elcielo one of the few restaurants we’ve visited that scores a full 5 stars on value.In the final analysis, Elcielo came out a big winner. Somehow, I was slightly captured by this theme-based tasting menu, which I would normally abhor. Of course it helped that the food was all delicious and service without fault. All this translated to one of the best overall scores for upscale dining in all of Latin America.