“It’s a dichotomy”, co-owner Carmen told me, “we wanted to create a fusion between American steakhouse fare while making the most of Colombia’s diverse ingredients”. I was sitting in Don Diablo, Medellín’s newest steakhouse, being introduced to the world of classic American dishes being transformed into fine-dining.
Carmen’s words struck me as evident across the whole restaurant – there were contrasts everywhere that worked flawlessly well: the traditional steakhouse above a sushi restaurant, the mismatched cutlery, the Colombian and foreign clientele. Don Diablo felt familiar and yet at the same time, uniquely exciting; striking the playful balance between being able to lose all pretentiousness without damaging any of the genuine quality.
Although having been open for only seven months, the restaurant (which is the latest project from the owners of Carmen and Moshi) seems far from its infancy. The décor is sleek monotones, set against backdrop of jungle-esque prints with plants dotted around the room, making it clear that the art echoed the spirit of Colombia – wild, diverse and adventurous. It was no surprise then, that the menu also shared these same qualities.
The first food on our table was the amuse bouche, which isn’t on the menu and is served to all guests as a welcome. The fresh pan de yuca, with a Caribbean crème fraiche sauce known as ‘suero costeño ’, was warm and had a chewy, dense texture but was incredibly light to taste, while the sauce was smooth and smoky. The simple, yet delicious balls of bread were a sure sign of the food standard to follow.
Following a warm greeting from Carmen and an introduction to the menu’s origin, she suggested we try a few of the starters to get a feel for the restaurant’s scope. We soon had an impressive platter of four options spread in front of us: cangrejo, pulpo a las brasas, cogollos, and homemade sourdough bread with butter.
The cangrejo (Colombian parsnip gnocchi, shellfish bisque, rocoto chile and paipa cheese) was incredible. The shredded crab had a melting consistency while the gnocchi added a little extra crunch, and both were seasoned to perfection with wafts of the cheese and chilli spice. The pulpo (garlic grilled octopus, “cocktail sauce”, preserved Meyer lemon and Carantanta – a traditional preparation from Popayán, a bi product of the traditional arepa) was one of the most memorable dishes. Normally, the density of octopus means I avoid it as a dinner option but Don Diablo’s take was phenomenal. The crispy tentacles had a deep, smokiness that released a burst of barbeque with each crunch, as the cocktail sauce added a refreshing citrus element that heightened the meatiness of the octopus.
Elsewhere, the Cogollos (grilled little gems, ember roasted tomatoes, pickled shallot, sunflower seed and blue cheese tahini) took a somewhat Mediterranean turn, as the salad crossed the cold vegetables with the warm tahini and the subtle taste of the shallots and seeds with the distinct blue cheese. The Cogollos typically comes with bacon – which I imagine compliments the ingredients even more – however, minus the meat, the dish was still a sensational wave of textures and aromas.
Wrapping up the starters, the homemade sourdough bread was served with creamy, salty butter sourced from five specific cows in small local dairy farm in San Pedro de los Milagros. While this detail made me smile, it was also an insight into the very close and curated connections Don Diablo has with its suppliers. In fact, Carmen recounted how the restaurant only works with Colombian farmers and producers for their ingredients. Reflecting on how biodiverse Colombia is as a country, Carmen explained that her and Rob (her husband, co-owner and the restaurant group’s executive chef) travel the country at least once a month in pursuit of constantly learning more about Colombian culinary heritage, preparations and ingredients, as well as meeting small artisans and farmers to source new products.
The selection process for steaks at Don Diablo is impressive in itself, with guests having the choice of seven cuts, ranging from 250g up to 600g. Carmen described how the meat used in Don Diablo is exclusively Colombian, bought from all over the country from independent farms. Different to other steakhouses in Medellín, Don Diablo doesn’t import meat from America because Colombian cows are grass-fed and therefore leaner. And while the dry-ageing process is long and inefficient (around 40% of the yield is lost during the maturation), it produces a dramatically enhanced flavor.
Full disclosure – I’m pescatarian, and admittedly, reviewing a steakhouse seemed a little daunting. To avoid any disservice to Don Diablo, I brought a meat-eater along with me. Nonetheless, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover how vegetarian-friendly the menu was; I imagined being confined to one or two options but in reality, had a whole host of dishes to choose from.
Based on Carmen’s recommendation, I ordered the Primavera, handmade pappardelle pasta (using a pasta machine from Italy) with seasonal vegetables, Pomodoro, Pecorino Romano and purple basil. True to its name, the Primavera had spring overtones – the sweet, colorful vegetables layered on the flat pasta created a heartiness that was warming but not heavy. The sharp crunch of the vegetables and the thickness of the pasta meant each bite was a sharp release of flavor, followed by the soft hints of cheese, and conjuring up images of dining al fresco in Europe.
Over on the carnivore’s plate lay the 100% Colombian Solomito, a 250g, 15 day dry-aged tenderloin steak, accompanied with papa cargada (ember roasted native potato, guanciale – a cured pig jowl made in-house -, scallion, Caribbean créme fraiche and Pecorino Romano), and a béarnaise sauce. Even from across the table, I could see the tenderness of the meat as the knife melted through the cut, revealing an oozing pink center and a strong meaty musk. Outside the steak had a crisp seared wrapping, juxtaposing to the succulent inside, and the addition of the rich béarnaise sauce amplified the smoky essences of the meat, leaving the fluffiness of the potatoes to absorb the juices.
The dessert menu at Don Diablo is perhaps the most recognizable American comfort food, boasting Baked Alaska, ice cream sandwiches and Derby pies to name a few selections. Again, based on Carmen’s recommendation, we shared the peanut butter pie and immediately knew all three courses from the evening had been outstanding. The pie – which is made from dark chocolate and Nutella mousse, pastuso peanut, and merengue – had all the delightful sticky, chewiness a dessert should have, as well as creamy merengue on top, and dashes of salt running throughout the sweet base. True to Don Diablo form, the ingredients remained Colombian, with 76% of the chocolate being from Tumaco and the peanuts from Pasto, both in the country’s Nariño district. And as with the prior courses, the dessert had that feeling of knowing the dish but having never tasted anything quite like it before.
As our evening at Don Diablo came to a close, Carmen introduced us to head chef Johny Patiño, who has been working with Rob and Carmen for over 10 years and is a master griller and beef connoisseur. We learned how the grill in the restaurant’s kitchen was specially-made, and how no other restaurant in Medellín uses the same model, not to mention, how Don Diablo has the only dry-ageing room in the entire country! Safe to say, as the night unfolded, it was more and more apparent that Don Diablo has the knowledge, equipment and sincere passion to consistently be one of the best restaurants in the city.
Don Diablo is undoubtedly a premier steakhouse in Medellín, managing to present a wholly Colombian experience via conventional American steakhouse dishes. It is this special dichotomy, commitment to local ingredients and impeccable service that makes the restaurant a testament to the assorted and rare flavors of Colombia.
Many thanks to Carmen and the wonderful staff at Don Diablo for their hospitality.
Address: Carrera 36 #10A – 45, Poblado
Phone: +57 (4) 311 02 93 (Staff speak English and Spanish)
+57 318 843 1198
Online Reservations: www.dondiablo.co
Lunes 7pm – 10:30pm
Martes & Miércoles 12pm – 3pm | 7pm – 10:30pm
Jueves & Viernes 12 – 3pm | 7pm – 11pm
Sábado 12:20pm – 3:30pm | 7 – 10:30pm