[Update: As of November 2013, the restaurant appears to have closed.]
I first noticed Bijao when I arrived in Medellin two years ago.
Set back from the sidewalk, and lacking the open air atmosphere of most restaurants in Parque Lleras helped distinguish it.
I also noticed the white tablecloths, and thus associated the food inside with a higher standard, yet I still wasn’t motivated to visit until I read on their website that Anthony Bourdain had eaten there when he was in Medellin to film the No Reservations Colombia episode.
While Bijao wasn’t featured on the program, if the restaurant’s nuevo Latino cuisine was good enough for Mr. Bourdain, it was surely good enough for me.
Luckily, Phil of Dimensional Heart Traveler would be back in town for a few nights, and was up for trying it out.
The bonus of his company was his background as a chef in California.
Based on Phil’s schedule, our dinner was on a Monday evening, so we had the restaurant to ourselves (at least the first of the three floors).
The interior design was elegant, and a sliding glass door opened along one side of the room to let in fresh air.
Our waiter, who was able to cover most of the service in English, informed us that the restaurant was in the midst of switching its menus.
As a result, we were given temporary 8 x 11 paper menus, which happened to lack prices, though neither of us felt the need to ask about the cost of individual dishes.
A complimentary serving of 4 fresh arepas was brought to the table, along with a mild yellow salsa.
In regular Colombian restaurants, the little arepas are typically the consistency of cardboard, so it was a nice surprise to bite into these and find they were melt-in-your-mouth soft.
To get the full nuevo Latino experience, we ordered two appetizers. I picked the chorizo Argentino with chimichurri sauce.
The chorizo were wrapped in phyllo dough, which made for a wonderful presentation (and photo).
Phil went with the Caribbean crab with papaya guacamole. I’m not much of a crab connoisseur, however the claws are one of the best parts, so I sucked the soft meat out of one with little to no effort.
I was left wanting more, but luckily we had our entrees on the way, except we forgot to order them when we picked the appetizers out.
We’d unintentionally extended our dinner, but given the lack of other tables, it could’ve been a lot worse.
To pass the time, we each took a second glass of red wine.
My tuna entrée arrived, and it looked almost too pretty to eat.
4 pieces of tuna were seared lightly on both sides, and presented in 3 different ways.
They all tasted delicious, and the tuna was perfectly cooked, though given my penchant for sushi, I would probably request less cooking time if I were to order the dish again.
My only suggestion, which I mentioned in the post-dinner survey, was to use less of the sea salt, which adds a crunchy texture at the expense of overpowering the other flavors.
[Editor: The following day, I received an email from the restaurant apologizing for the heavy use of salt…the only time I can recall a personal response to a dining survey, and a clear indication of their attitude toward customer service.]
Phil’s New Zealand rack of lamb was both presented and cooked perfectly.
And then it was time for my favorite course, dessert. I was hoping they had something with chocolate, but no such luck, which was kind of a surprise.
We went with our waiter’s recommendation…
This dessert gets big points for presentation, and clearly reflects Bijao’s dedication to nuevo Latino cuisine.
The passion fruit ice cream and tangerine mousse (served in the shot glass) were both full of fruity flavor, and the Aguardiente-flavored cookie was a nice touch.
To close out our meal, we ordered cafe con leche (we are in Colombia after all).
A 3-course dinner for two, including 4 glasses of wine, tax, and 10% tip came to 280,000 COP ($160, or $80 each).
Based on the atmosphere, and quality of food and service, the same dinner could easily be twice the cost in New York City or Miami.
While the entrees ran about $30 each, you can experience Bijao on a budget by skipping the wine ($8 glass) and coffee, and sharing an appetizer.