Bijao Restaurant – Nuevo Latino Cuisine

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Bijao Restaurant
The entrance to Bijao Restaurant in Parque Lleras.

[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.

Bijao Restaurant's first floor dining area
Bijao Restaurant’s first floor dining area

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.

Complimentary arepas with fresh salsa.
Complimentary arepas with fresh salsa.

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.

Chorizo Argentino with chimichurri sauce
Chorizo Argentino with chimichurri sauce

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).

Caribbean crab claws with papaya guacamole
Caribbean crab claws with papaya guacamole

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.

Black pepper crusted bluefin tuna with sea salt, apple guava vinaigrette, and white bean salad.
Black pepper crusted bluefin tuna with sea salt, apple guava vinaigrette, and white bean salad.

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.]

New Zealand rack of lamb served over purple potato cake and sauteed vegetable juices.
New Zealand rack of lamb served over purple potato cake and sauteed vegetable juices.

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…

Passion fruit ice cream, tangerine mousse, and Aguardiente-flavored cookie with a strawberry coulis and touch of chocolate sauce.
Passion fruit ice cream, tangerine mousse, and Aguardiente-flavored cookie with a strawberry coulis and touch of chocolate sauce.

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.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Great review Dave. I have always walk past on my way to Hooters (for wings of course) and wondered if it was good. The lamb looks great. Will have to check it out.

  2. $160 can buy a very good meal in New York or even more so in Miami. Very expensive for the food/cooking quality I have experienced in the past couple of years in Colombia. Sad but true, Colombia has been discovered and over-run.

    • Hola Anders, I certainly agree that $160 is a bit on the high end for what we got, but I’d be the first to speak up if I felt it was overpriced for the quality of food, service, and atmosphere. If I have an occasion to go back, I’d probably skip the wine and coffee to keep the bill down.

      We all know Colombia has been discovered, but how does that relate to Bijao? The head chef is Colombian, and the restaurant has been around for at least a few years. It’s not like a lot of the Asian destinations, like Bangkok and Bali, that are overrun with foreign chefs. At least not yet.

      Or do you mean that because there are so many Westerners visiting now, it’s driving up the restaurant prices?

  3. Dave,

    Good site – well done. I don’t pretend to be an authority on Medellin, or Colombia. But, I have spent a lot of time in the country and region, over the past 15 years; living in Buenos Aires and Santiago as well as numerous trips to multiple cities in Colombia over the past 15 years. I did not intend to “rain” on anyone’s parade, or to criticize the chef of the resto you reviewed – I trust he’s knocking out honest food. But the reality is that Medellin is a boom town in a rapidly developing country – perhaps not much different from the Prague of 15 years ago. Progress? Yeah, I guess. I’ve witnessed both, and feel free to call me jaded – but it’s a bummer. I think I’ll head to Guayaquil…….or Skopje.

    • Anders – I know where you’re coming from. I impulsively spent 6 months in Medellin when I first arrived because I knew immediately that word was going to get out (it already had years ago…I’d wanted to visit Colombia since 2005…but I believe social media and blogging have amplified it in recent years). I imagine it was only more enjoyable to visit 10 years ago when foreigners were few and far between, but I’m certainly not going to begrudge Colombians their chance at prosperity.

      I plan to visit Ecuador in about 4 months, along with the rest of South America. Based on what I’ve heard, Brazil is the main contender in terms of where I might find myself living next, but it’s main drawback is a costlier standard of living then what you can get in Colombia (even as the peso continues to strengthen).

      PS – I like living in a boom town…and hearing about how new visitors are surprised by what the country has to offer. I think that’s more exciting than living in, say, Thailand which had its boom a decade or two ago.