South America Living

La Vitrola

A Bit Of Old Havana In Cartagena

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Colombian food has been hiding,” says Felipe Arboleda, the boyish, perpetually smiling former chef at Palma, one of the city’s white-hot restaurants. “Colombians hide their identities when they travel because people think we’re all drug dealers. People ask if I have a cocaine plantation or if I am related to Pablo Escobar. So our cuisine hasn’t left the country.”

And if there is one standout restaurant — it’s La Vitrola. Considered the culinary kingpin of Cartagena. Part jazz club, part lounge, part highly touted restaurant, La Vitrola channels old Havana — whirring ceiling fans, swaying palm fronds, slatted window shutters that throw the light just so. Put another way, good luck getting a table for dinner.
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I had heard nightmare scenarios about people being given reservations that weren’t honored at the door. “No hay mesas” they were told. I wasn’t taking any chances, so I went for lunch. I got all gussied up in a nice little sun dress — there’s a strict dress code: no shorts, no sandals, definitely no flip flops. I carried my high heels with me through the winding streets of the walled city and ducked into a doorway to slip them on just about a block away from the restaurant. It worked — I got in.

The menu is built around seafood. Normally, I’m suspicious of fish camouflaged in spices and sauces — but the red snapper a la diabla was so fresh and I could still taste the ocean. The sauce was definitely spicy — but it added to the flavor rather than masking it.

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My starter was a delicious octopus carpacio. It was divine. Delicately seasoned but not so much as to take away from the flavor, rather it added to it.

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The highlight of my meal, though, was the service. It was impeccable! My server, Javier, really took time to explain each dish — and also to personalize the experience. He told me all about the history of the joint — how Gabriel Garcia Marquez used to come by regularly…etc.
Here’s a shot of me, with Gabo looking over my shoulder!
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Lunch came to about CP$30,000 pesos which is about $15. This included 2 glasses of wine.

La Vitrola also has a full service bar -if you’re in the mood, they make an excellent Mojito. You can while away more than a few hours here one way or another…

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And as always….buen provecho!

La Vitrola
Calle de Baloco No. 2-01
57-5-660-07-11

[Andy Alexander 2015]




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