According to my lovely fiancé, a Colombian stew called ajiaco is better than an orgasm, a choir of angels, a full-body massage, and the holy grail, all rolled into one. She went to Bogota eleven years ago, and hasn’t stopped ranting about the awesomeness of ajiaco bogotano since. Ajiaco might be the most often-mentioned food in our household…despite the fact that she hasn’t touched ajiaco in almost a decade, and I’d never laid eyes on the stuff until last weekend.
There’s no shortage of Colombian food in NYC, but it turns out that ajiaco is remarkably difficult to find. Ajiaco is a local favorite in Bogota, but rarely seen in other regions of the country… and most of NYC’s Colombian restaurants are apparently owned by immigrants from Cali and Medellin. It doesn’t help that ajiaco is a pain in the butt to make: a good ajiaco bogotano apparently requires at least four or five hours of cooking time, which doesn’t exactly encourage restaurants to put the stuff on the menu.
I’ve been actively searching for a good ajiaco for about three years, dating back to when we lived in DC. I’ve googled ajiaco dozens of times, hoping to surprise my fiancé with a bowl of the stuff—but had zero luck until I saw a mention on twitter: it turns out that ajiaco, once upon a time, was a special served at Cafecito Bogota in Greenpoint.
I didn’t bother to call ahead, and just showed up at Cafecito Bogota on a random weekday. No ajiaco that day, but I found out that Cafecito Bogota always offers ajiaco on Saturdays. In the absence of ajiaco during my first visit, I inhaled a massive plate of bandeja paisa ($12.95), the national dish of Colombia, consisting of (I’m sucking in my gut as I type this) chorizo, chicharron (fried pork skin, which is tastier than you might think, but just as fattening), a surprisingly tender steak, a fried egg (sweat pours off my brow as I strain to keep my gut sucked in), fried plantains, rice, beans, an arepa (a flat, fluffy piece of white corn flatbread—not to be confused with Venezuelan arepas), and avocado (I give up… my stomach just rolled past my beltline and flopped onto the keyboard). Absolutely delicious, across the board.
The following Saturday, I reappeared at Cafecito Bogota with a beautiful, ajiaco-loving woman (click here to see a picture of her naked, if you haven’t already fallen for that one). And yes, there was ajiaco ($7 for a large bowl), made from three different kinds of potatoes simmered for several hours with chicken, cilantro, corn on the cob, and guascas, a Colombian herb that is apparently the secret to a good ajiaco. The dish is then topped with a float of heavy cream, and served with a side of capers and avocado. The result is a thick, smooth, delicious, oddly buttery ooze of shredded chicken and spices, punctuated by an occasional chunk of corncob. I’m not sure that it was as good as an orgasm or choir of angels (now that I think about it, a choir of angels sounds kind of annoying… so scratch that last comparison, ajiaco is way better than the choir), but it wasn’t too far off.
To warm up for the ajiaco, we ordered a pair of the best fried empanadas ($2 each) I’ve ever had, stuffed with an interesting slurry of finely shredded chicken, rice, potatoes, onion, and herbs. For my entrée, I went for sudado de pollo ($12.95), which consisted of huge chunks of chicken, potato, yucca, and green plantains, stewed in a delicious tomato salsa criolla, and served with rice and a small salad.
Thrilled as we were with the entrees and ajiaco, Cafecito Bogota deserves a few extra bonus points for being a thoroughly comfortable place to lounge around for a few hours. You can get your caffeine and/or booze buzz going with a fruity sangria, a bottle of good Chilean wine, a Colombian soda (Pony Malta, anyone?), Colombian coffee, or all of the above. And I don’t think they believe in hurrying you out of there: Cafecito Bogota has a wonderfully relaxed South American feel to it, more like a sidewalk café in Cartagena than a storefront in New York City. A relaxed café in New York? Almost as rare and amazing as a holy grail having an orgasm.
1015 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn
Subway: Greenpoint Ave. (G train)