I’m sure there’s cocaine still around here somewhere, this is Colombia after all. But the stain of Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel’s rule over this country has been painstakingly scrubbed away over the decades. In 2014, Medellin’s homicide rate fell to 26.7 per 100,000 people, the lowest rate in decades. The war against cocaine production and subsequent trafficking continues, and the FARC still occupy parts of the country you’re unlikely to ever see, but even the most seasoned pessimist can sense the light peering through the clouds.
What’s emerged in the absence of the old headlines and stereotypes we’re all familiar with is an overtly optimistic population. With gun violence and the murder rate on the decline, and unemployment the lowest it’s been in 14 years, Colombia’s middle-class is discovering new ways to spend their downtime … and money. That includes embracing the evolving food culture. One place a lot of folks in the capital are doing that is Tomás Rueda’s Tábula.
Tomás, the humble and successful restaurateur, is one of the reasons for my visit to Bogotá. His restaurants, Donostia and Tábula, sit side by side in the city’s Macarena barrio. This year, I paid a visit to Tábula for lunch after seeing some of the dishes highlighted on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.
First things first, this place is hard to find. Make locating it a simpler task by writing the address down ahead of time in addition to favoriting it on your smart phone’s map application. I would advise – not based on any personal experience I assure you – against hopping in a taxi and asking the driver to take you to Tábula. Odds are they will have no clue where to go. If you arrive for an early seating, the suited security and tinted SUVs outside the restaurant are clues that you’re in the right place. In addition to being popular with the middle-class, Tábula is also favorited by Bogota’s elite, politicians and businessmen. Let the sunglasses guide you.
The decor inside is open and airy, with a modern-cabin aesthetic that feels more like something you’d find in Portland rather than Bogotá. As far as dress code, if you walk in wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you won’t be out of place. The same could be said of slacks and a dress shirt. Or in the case of this writer: Canadian tuxedo. There’s very much a “Everybody is Welcome” vibe, despite the prices probably being contrarian to that for those on the backpacking circuit.
I was surprised, delightfully, to see Tomás working in the kitchen while trailing the hostess to my table. That’s something you don’t see everyday in a lot of the big restaurants back home. After ordering a glass of wine, I asked my waiter for the chef’s recommendation, which came moments after by the chef himself. After shooting the shit for a few minutes about our origins and his businesses, Tomás suggested a roasted beet served with goat cheese and plate of sliced chorizo drizzled with fresh chimichurri. I threw in two additional dishes to appease my gluttonous nature: an indigenous yellow potato accompanied with chive butter, and several skewers of perfectly cooked beef tenderloin.
Tender, succulent, delicious, refreshing, explosive … adjectives to describe the eats. None of the plates disappointed. In fact, the portions were the only downside. It was simply too much food for one person to eat in a single sitting. I got through about 32-percent of my meal before reluctantly retiring my stomach for the remainder of the day … retiring it as a proud sinner dreaming of siestas and treadmills. “I will come back here,” I thought out loud to myself. “With friends, of which I’m told I have, and we will eat and eat and eat, and then when all is said and done, split the check … because that, ladies and gentlemen, is what friends are for.”