Review: Leo

1 July 2016

I was still pretty full when I had to get ready for dinner, one which is highly anticipated. I had found this restaurant, Leo, by chance. But when I saw the stuff they offered, I was hooked. I took a cab there and ironically it was a block from where I had that nearly fatal lunch…

With a cozy, romantic dining room and fantastic front-of-house staff, I sensed a wonderful tasting menu to come. I went with the full tasting and pairing. They had a non-alcoholic one that looked fantastic, but I stayed boozy. The menu looked utterly fantastic and I was excited to get started! The first thing they brought was a cool little drink… This is a drink made from coca leaves (yes…) that’s fermented. Mmm, this was really tasty, and it came with the opening bread service.

01 - achín bread - chontaduro butter

Not the most fantastic thing as the bread is made of achín (taro). I grew up in Hawai’i, so… The butter now added a little more flavour, as it’s infused with chontaduro — or beach palm. Nice, a great example of using the exotic and unique flavours of Colombia! Soon after the four-piece amuse arrived…

02a-amuse

Nice. First, on top is a beautiful cacay nut milk. If you didn’t know, cacay nut oils are the new health craze these days, but this was just beautiful and creamy. On the left is sun-dried salted beef with wild papaya jam — which was really a nice combination. In the centre is an essence of river snail with a piece of culantro (not cilantro, but culantro) enmeshed. Then on the right is a potato cake topped with local apples and river shrimp. Fabulous stuff! Really enjoying this so far!

I smiled as I finished these, as well as the coca drink. Soon the feast began with a nice glass of pinot grigio and the first dish, and what a vision it was…

03b-tuber-bean-conch

This was a tasting of Andean tubers, as well as beans, all accompanying a very nice portion of conch in a base made of tamarillo (a local fruit called the tree tomato). Fabulous flavours, with the tamarillo base playing very well to the starchy tubers. The conch was of excellent quality and flavour, not rubbery nor difficult to eat. Perfect. A fabulous alamgamation of flavours!

One thing I realised is that many of the flavours tonight will be very new for me, as these ingredients are just impossible to find outside of the region. And what best way to experience that than a kitchen that understands the flavours! As a generous glass of sancerre is poured, the next dish arrives — the seasonal fish.

04-corvina

In this case the fish is corvina, with a splendid combination of vinegar and local herbs. The fish is excellent in quality and flavour, boasting fine texture too, melting in your mouth when — and not before — you want it to. In addition to knowing the flavours of the rare ingredients, the kitchen has executed very well. Am beyond satisfied so far, the sancerre working so well here too.

I was also looking at the list of non-alcoholic pairings, and I sometimes wish I get both options! In any case, a Spanish white is poured and next up is something surprisingly good.

05a-palm

This was a dish based on palm from Putumayo — slices of the heart of palm, a palm foam, and a cream of palm — with a small inclusion of paipano hard cheese to give the cream a nice kick. Simple, yet excellent, with really fabulous quality heart of palm. On a good day it’s even better than artichoke, and this is indeed one of those days.

The meal is moving at a proper pace, even when the place is getting busier. I began dining early (for Colombians) this Friday evening, so it went from me being the first diner to the place getting busy. I noticed, unlike last night in the more cosmopolitan Zona G, tonight is more of a local crowd — which I like. People in Zona G are missing out on a great experience here! A big pour of riesling and we go to the next dish, which is one I was really looking forward to.

06b-caiman-pepper broth.jpg

This is caiman (yes), in a broth of Amazon peppers. Oh my goodness the broth is utterly heavenly, the aroma is something that will live with me for a long time. Beautiful taste too. The caiman is cooked very tender, and it is a nice flavour. Not too strong, but for those unfamiliar it would resemble alligator. Or else, you can say it’s between rabbit and frog I guess… They told me this is a new dish and they’re trying to perfect it, but I say they got it pretty close already — especially that broth. Oh my goodness is it amazing. I wish I could get a glass of this to drink!

Spectacular meal so far! The wine pours, by the way, have been more than generous. I was a little worried how the altitude will affect me with a boozy night, but so far so good. Did the coca help? Who knows! In any case, the next drink was a little different — one of the unique things about this evening…

This is a corozo drink that’s fermented — which is quite nice. Corozo is a palm fruit, and the flavour is a nice, mildly sweet concoction that went well with the next dish — tuna.

07-tuna

A fabulously good piece of seared tuna, boasting a coating of hormigas culonas — or “big ass” ants and molasses. This was probably the best coating on tuna I’ve ever had. I usually like my tuna unadulterated, but this was nearly perfect. The pea puree was also nice, but the tuna is a blown-away type of item. Wow…

The smile on my face is pretty evident to the staff as they can see how much I am enjoying this. They stayed on the odd pairings and next up was rice horchata with some local rum…mmm, this was very tasty I almost asked for more after the meal! The next dish was the rabbit croqueta.

08-rabbit

Nice, but for me probably the weakest of the night. The smoked rabbit was excellent, the aroma is just awesome. But as my readers know I’m not a croquetas fan at all. But the aroma was something that I just let it linger so I could enjoy it. And that horchata, mmm… Loved it! And as I finished that the next surprise drink came — and they went off-menu for this.

They switched the item listed and gave me some fermented coffee. Oh my…I can almost die now… That’s better than a coffee-crusted rib, which wasn’t what was next but it was indeed pork rib.

09-pork rib

Very tender and full of flavour, no stringiness here. Perfect execution. The pearl barley on the side was a solid addition, balancing out all the flavours. I really like the balance here. Even when there was acid, they cut into it so everything comes out balanced at the end. It’s a demonstration that they truly understand all of their ingredients, which is marvellous. We shifted back to wine with a syrah for the next dish…

10-mutton

Mmm, mutton. It’s a bit of work to eat this, so it’s proper mutton. Strong flavours, just the way I like it. I can see some people not liking this dish, but for some of us that like full-flavoured meats this is nice. I like working on my food for a dish or two during the course of a tasting menu! But they also used a similar pepper sauce as the caiman dish, so I was in heaven…

I was starting to get rather full — no thanks to that crazy lunch today at Tábula — but that was the last savoury course, so it’s plain sailing now. They poured another interesting drink for the next course…

This is pirrín — a herbal aguardiente. Mmm, not strong alcoholically, but a full flavour firewater it certainly is. Oddly it didn’t clash with the first dessert.

11-arazá-caquetá cheese gelato

The dish features another rare local fruit, the arazá — a very acidic but unique item. The acid is cut by the gelato made with Caquetá cheese. Perfect balance, brings out the best in both! Fabulous dessert! This is what I mean about understanding flavours and balance! I don’t praise desserts often but this was nice. Then the final item on the menu came, the chocolate sphere filled with naidí liqueur…

12-naidí sphere

What is naidí? Perhaps it’s better known to most people as açaí. A nice treat to close this account! Of course that wasn’t really the end, as they brought out a chocolate frozen in liquid nitrogen…

13-chocolate frozen

This came with the coffee…oh, this was a real treat, this awesome coffee…

Wow, that was a meal. I think this is the tasting menu of 2016 so far. Amazing diversity of ingredients you can’t get elsewhere, and there is true understanding of how they worked. Not one dish was off, off-balanced nor disappointing. Execution excellent, planning awesome. This shows a true understanding of how each dish worked, and it’s rare I have a tasting menu of this quality.

It was getting way busier and I see both families and young couples. I suspect they would be packed if up where I am based near all the top restaurants in Zona G, but frankly there’s an amazing charm about having this next to the Museo Nacional.

Amazing dinner. May I even add that the full tasting plus pairing was under USD 100? Amazing innit? If it does not remain the best tasting menu of 2016 it will certainly be in the very top. Beyond recommended!!!

It’s really one of these you-must-do-once-in-your-life tasting menus…

Leo
Calle 27B Nº 6-75
Bogotá, Colombia

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6 thoughts on “Review: Leo

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