Greenpoint Gazette

Cafecito Bogota

BY Austin Kilham

The foods of Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have long been a well-loved part of New York’s diverse culinary mélange. However, let’s not forget that there is more to south-of-the-border cuisine than Central America and the Caribbean. Think much farther south of the border, to the Andes and beyond.
It has been nice to see a number of places representing various South American countries springing up in the area, whether it be the Venezuelan Arepa Arepa on Havemeyer, reviewed in the Gazette in February, or even the now defunct Argentinean restaurant, Pampa Grill, now the Mexican eatery, Mesa Coyoacan. In any case, attempts to bring the food of that continent to the neighborhood are well appreciated.
That is why it was heartening to stumble across a representative from Colombia, Cafecito Bogota, on Manhattan Avenue between Green and Huron. While it is a sit down restaurant with a full menu, it is also very much a café by day with customers lingering over coffee, reading, and typing on their computers, and a wine bar with tapas menu at night. This gives it a bit of a confusing feel. Is it a sit down restaurant or an everyday hangout spot?
The restaurant serves sandwiches, salads, and breakfast anytime, all of which hover around the $7 to $8 mark. However, upon unfolding the menu I was immediately drawn to the arepas montadas, or mounted arepas. The arepa is a flat, unleavened corn pancake that originates from the Andean region of South America. It is prepared differently from region to region and share similarities with the Salvadoran pupusa.
The arepas montadas differ from their Venezuelan brethren in that instead of being a cornmeal patty that is sliced and stuffed, these are flatter and piled high with a variety of toppings. This is not a hand held affair. Now, the other day I had what turned out to be a particularly uninspired arepa from a street vendor in Williamsburg that tasted like pancake mix, and was doughy and cold, hardly satisfying. Needless to say, I was eager to put that experience behind me, and with a dozen options at $7.95 apiece, this was a good place to start.
I had the Bogota that comprised itself of white meat chicken tossed in a hogao sauce made of scallions, tomatoes and corn. It was tasty but not nearly as exciting as the Caldas, which was a piled high with bacon mixed with caramelized onions and tomato. Bigger, too, than the stuffed arepa one of these was a perfectly filling portion for lunch. All can be miniaturized in tapas form come evening.
The food at Cafecito Bogota doesn’t seem like it is going for tradition. Owners and brothers, Oscar and Hernando Varela, admit that they are trying to meld the flavors of Colombia’s diverse regions. What they claim to be most important is that the taste of the food has “substance”. The food is good and the atmosphere relaxed, but what I think the place has most is enthusiasm, and right now that’s enough for me.

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