As I’ve stated before in other posts, one of the many great things about travelling to foreign countries with weak currencies is that you can have amazing meals at a fraction of what they would cost in the US or Europe.

In Bogotá Colombia one such meal was at Rafael, a Peruvian restaurant with Lima-inspired meat and fish dishes as well as pasta and desserts. The bill came in at little under $50/person, but that’s including cocktails, wine, coffees and digestives, so really without drinking this could have easily been an incredible $30 meal!

Of course we started with pisco sours for the table, quickly followed by maracuya and lulo juices for me (the designated driver) and Argentinian Malbec wine for my friends and co-workers.

And for food of course we started with two different ceviche appetizers (of which the traditional version ruled over the other warm type), some pulpo alla gallega and fish cakes (which the waiter brought two orders of without us having asked for that).

For my main course I had a fluffy white fish  (the menu was only in Spanish so I wasn’t sure of the name) prepared in a typical Peruvian way (although the bed of rice in a green sauce didn’t convince me, but the baby scallops made up for). 

Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the main courses of my fellow diners but I can assure you the presentations were impeccable and the food was delicious according to everyone’s account (and I should mention that on this night two of my fellow diners were accomplished french chefs).

For dessert we ordered the typical Peruvian dessert called Sospiro, which came in an amazing spring-looking mousse/sauce over slices of the squishy-textured local guanabana fruit and a bed of dulche de leche emulsion. The second dessert are caramelized pears with a caramel praline slice and a vanilla-based fruity sauce. Both desserts came with small leaves of basil and berries.

Stay away from the coffee! Colombia has unfortunately never had good espresso (even though they produce great beans) but this place is definitely the proof of that. We ordered espressos and got what in Italy would have been a below par bad, bitter, way too watery and way too long coffee so we sent them back and asked for espresso ristretto and got the right amount of coffee but still way below par bad, bitter, watery coffee without the foam that comes from the right water pressure. Avoid coffee here at all costs if your standards are as high as mine for espresso.

Other than a couple of small hiccups with the service (like bringing two appetizers and charging us for it, charging us for a drink we didn’t order etc) this was a great meal at an affordable price that’s definitely worth a visit. 

La Condesa Irina Lazaar

This is a little hidden gem in Bogota, Colombia. It took me about 5 visits to Bogota to discover this place, not even my local frieds knew about it and at the time of this writing it doesn’t even show up on Maps or Google Maps if you search for the name, even though it’s been open for 7 years already!!!

This is a lunch spot ONLY. Reservations recommended. Open Mon-Fri from 12 to 3.30 only, the place serves mostly the political crowd of the nearby city hall and offices (the corruption must be adding to the flavor ;-)). It’s closed Saturday and Sunday and it’s nestled inside the old beautiful, historical and slightly sketchy (at night) La Candelaria neighborhood.

American-Mexican owner and chef Edgardo Areizaga is a really sweet guy and a jazz lover, so if you are in a jazz group or on tour there make sure you stop by and bring him a CD! He’s got great food stories and even produced a jazz CD of a local trio that he wanted to support. What a guy!
He mentioned to me he wants to start opening other restaurants and cook less so try to go soon while he’s still there doing the cooking (although he said if he hires other chef they have to be better than him…).

La Condesa Irina Lazaar serves no wine (except for one local brand of Rosé -although you can probably bring your own wine and have them uncork it) but they have beer and other drinks (none of the amazing Colombian juices though). You walk in to a small dining room with about 8-10 tables and one step up, almost staged, is a big open kitchen where you can watch the chef and his two assistants prepare your food.

The restaurant has no menu but when you walk in Edgardo greets you and tells you what’s good that day. When I arrived he said the steak, the pork chops and the salmon were the thing to get today and he told us to sit down at table 7 by the window. A few minutes later he came to the table and said “I’m making you the steak and I’m making you the pork chop and I’ll make you a little sausage starter”… he kinda ready our minds… hmmmm… why argue?

The italian-inspired sausage starter with tomatoes was actually amazing. The steak cooked rare was delicious, juicy and tender. The huge pork chop was a tad dry if you ate it without the marbled fat around it (which I was at first trying to do to be “good” to by body) but when I cut into the fat and ate the meat and the fat together all the flavors and the consistency came there beautifully, with the right amount of juice and meat. Both mains came served with potatoes and a good salad and the appetizer was served on a bed of delicious cooked tomatoes.

The only dessert available was a chocolate cake which was very good, but I don’t think it was made in house…

This is probably too gringo if you are looking for local food but otherwise definitely worth a visit… and if you are a jazz musician especially so!!!