Cartagena Day/Night 3 – Going Local

Still trying to get the bitter tourist taste out of my mouth from yesterday, I was determined not to let that happen again but going to only local suggestions.  First up was the restaurant my server at La Vitrola had said has the best seafood in Cartagena.  Works for me.

At first I was a tad bit hesitant when I saw the restaurant was located inside the Convention Centre.  Typically that means mediocre food and high prices but both her recommendation plus other rave reviews convinced me enough to at least give it a shot.  That turned out to be a very, very wise move.

While Marea by Rausch (a famous Colombian chef) was indeed at the Convention Centre, it faced out towards the water and was its own entity.  The interior was gorgeous, all sea blues and whites in keeping with the theme.  I first thought about sitting outside but it was still pretty hot so opted for the cool confines and plush seating indoors.

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The menu wasn’t that extensive but what was on it all looked fantastic.  Sticking to seafood winnowed the choices a bit further but still plenty of tasty options.  I asked my server what his favorite appetizer was and he excitedly told me the octopus carpaccio.  Sold.

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I’m usually not one to go nuts over presentation but when the dish arrived, I audibly gasped as it was stunning to look at it.  It was also a giant plate but my server assured me that’s only because the carpaccio was paper-thin.  And indeed it was, melted practically in my mouth.  Playing off the color of the octopus was a duo of olive sauces – purple and white. I was at first worried they were aioli but no, in fact were made of just olives – delicious.  Dotted around the edges were pieces of artichoke and asparagus tips, which added a nice crunchy element along with the mache salad on top, simply dresses in olive oil.  A fantastic dish.

For the main course, while I love salmon, especially with mustard sauce, I decided to be a bit more adventurous and get the lion fish filet.  My last somewhat risk had paid off handsomely so when in, uh, Cartagena…

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Another stone-cold stunner of a dish, perhaps the most interesting fish presentation I’ve ever encountered.  The lion fish filet was on top of a bed of Lyonnaise potatoes (always a favorite) but what took it over the top was the incredible porcini mushroom sauce that surrounded the filet as well as some dots of sweet pea puree.  I would take a piece of the fish, swirl it around the sauce and revel in that amazing combination of flavors, the delicate white fish with the rich, deep porcini sauce.  Here’s a closer look to show how much had gone into this incredible dish.

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After that more than generous portion of food, I was getting to be quite full.  Yet, I couldn’t help what wonder the desserts were like given how good the food at been so far.  I thought well I might as well take a look, for research purposes natch, and if something was just too good to pass up, well then…

The dessert list was impressively varied but my eyes were immediately drawn to the coconut creme caramel.  Dammit, I guess I had no choice then but to get it.  The things I do for my (vast?) readership on here.

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Yep, I made the right choice.  This was another home run.  The coconut flavor was ever present but not cloyingly so and the caramel sauce was wonderfully light.  Seriously one of the best I had ever had.  In a particular deft touch, it was server with a bracingly fresh pineapple sorbet where the serving spoon was actually a piece of waffle cone so you could pick it up and it eat that way.  Amazing.

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It had cooled down a bit so I had chosen to eat that magnificent dessert a fuera.  Not a bad view.  The storm clouds seemed to indicate it was time to leave and after being dumbfounded a final time with the bill – only $42 USD for all of that plus a glass of white wine – I set off.

I took a stroll down the edge of the water looking at the various vessels slowly moving in and out of the channel while others appears to be stationed for good, like this ol Jolly Roger.

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Since the Convention Centre is just on the other side of the Clock Tower, I walked back towards the plaza, admiring this cool bridge along the way.

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With the storm clouds looming, I headed back home for some recovery time.  After a few light showers and some more siesta time on my deck, I made my way back to the Walled City but this time at a newer portion (well at least in terms of being identified as such) called Gestemani.  This barrio had previously been a no go zone for tourists but over the past few years had been gentrifying into a hot spot with art galleries, boutique hotels and bars.

Since i had gone so big for lunch, I wanted something simple for dinner so per another local recommendation went to a small cafe called Cafe Malagana right in the heart of the barrio.  I had been told the main attraction was their rooftop deck and since the weather had turned into a very pleasant warm tropical night, I asked if I could sit up there.  2 flights of very small, steep stairs later, I arrived at the deck.

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There were two other couples on either side enjoying some romantic times, and well me.  Still, the weather was so nice and I was enjoying the view, I didn’t mind and put my order in for a requisite mojito, which was served in a jar.  The menu was small but I had been guided to get the fish tacos, which seemed perfect for my current frame of mind.  I chatted briefly with the couples, both of whom were very friendly as everyone has been here.  Soon my fish tacos arrived.

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The fish was very fresh and nicely battered with a local beer but the real star were the local pickled sweet peppers, which had a very nice tangy bite against the mild white fish.  Sure they were no Marea by Rausch quality but very tasty and perfect for the setting.  They also went great with this microbrew porter (one of Colombia’s firsts)

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One of the amusing things about the setup was there appeared to be only one server for the small place so there would be large stretches of time where he would be nowhere to be found.  This became even more noticeable when both couples left and now it was just oh solo mio.  The bitter chocolate notes of the porter were aching for something sweet to be paired with it and I saw that their only dessert was a brownie ala mode.  Unfortunately, since no one was checking on me, I had no idea how to order one since the thought of going up the tiny, steep stairs again felt like tempting fate.

I noticed though that there appeared to be some of sort intercom on the far wall and tried that route – success!  I ate my lovely brownie/ice cream/porter beer combo (no pic since it was just a standard brownie with ice cream) and headed back down the steep stairs.  I asked the server if it was safe enough to walk the 10-15 minutes or so to my next destination and he said no problem.  There was a more direct route that looked a bit sketchy so thanks to Google Maps, I chose one that went along more major roads.

My destination was a club called Mister Barbilla, which I had found out about when I had asked people where they go to have fun and dance.  I had also been told to get there before midnight to watch the place transform into a true party zone.  Still, I have enough experience with Latin American clubs to know that meant getting there at 11:30.

I didn’t see any signs but Google Maps indicated I was there and soon I was ushered inside after paying a $5.00 cover.  The room was small, dead and looked nothing like the pictures I had seen online. Had I finally been scammed?  No, as it turned out as I just need to basically prove my worth – maybe the Spanish combined with my gringo looks? – and eventually I was led through another series of small rooms to the main one I had seen on line.

I knew going in that most people would be at tables at that time of night and sure enough that was the case.  Since I was solo, a table didn’t make much sense so I took a seat at one of the main bars that looked out over the club.  A mix of traditional salsa music and more modern electronic tinged tracks boomed over the massive sound system, and as if like clockwork, at midnight people indeed did start to get up to dance.

It was too dark to take any decent pictures plus I was having too good a time to care.  “Rubio Gigante!” they called me and I had fun dancing with various women, including some of the staff, sipping my way too sweet mojito.  I’ve always thought that show me a culture that loves to dance and I’ll show you a happy culture.  The energy in the room was off the charts and while some of the music was godawful, I didn’t care.

At about 2AM, I decided to call it a night, made my way through the phalanx of street hawkers to a waiting cab and cruised on home.  Saturday would be my latest night yet so I needed to catch a few Zs before the fun and frivolity began again.

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