El Cielo is located in Medellin, Colombia. The chef, Juan Manuel Barrientos Valencia, trained at various places outside Colombia, including Arzak (which will become apparent as you will see late in this write up). At 23, he returned to Colombia and opened El Cielo. There are now locations in Bogota and Miami.
The meal started with the “expanding towel” which is interesting the first time its done, but I think its overdone and should be retired.
Next came an amuse bouche of chicharron (which are hanging with the clothes pins in the picture below) and various individual bites (I do not remember everything as we were not given a menu at the beginning OR END of the meal, which is one issue I have with this meal; I love tasting menus and being surprised, but I want a menu at the end so I can see what went into everything).
My initial impression was excitement. I kind of miss the theatrics in high end Spanish gastronomy that I experienced in Spain. Also, the presentation of the amuse was beautiful. The taste was good, not mind blowing, but good.
Next came what was the strangest food presentation I have ever experienced. The following tray it brought to your table and a silver bowl placed in front of you.
You are asked to hold your hands over the silver bowl while the server pours chocolate all over your hands. He then proceeds to sprinkle ground coffee over your hands. You are then told to rub your hands together and lick! The chocolate was delicious. The novelty of eating this way wears off quickly, and I wanted the server to come pour the warm jug of water over my hands to clean them (I was hoping he would not forget about us and we would of had to sit there with chocolate covered hands). While initially entertaining, it felt awkward in this type of establishment. I was wondering if frequent/return diners refused this part of the meal.
One benefit of this was that your hands will feel very soft after. The chocolate smell stayed on my hands for 2 days, which is not a bad thing.
Next came a chickpea soup and some bread with cilantro butter. A twig was placed through the bread (it must of been baked this way) which again gives hints of the Spanish training of the chef. Both were good, but not outstanding.
The next dish was shrimp. If I remember correctly, it was covered with a carrot sauce. Again, this dish was just ok. There was way too much sauce on the dish. This was a recurring theme throughout the meal. I felt that they used way too much sauce and the portions are too big for a tasting menu.
The next dish was salmon with beet sauce and rice crisp on top. The salmon was over cooked. Certain parts were ok, but others were dry. There was too much beet sauce, and the portion was huge. It also came with a potato mille feuille which was completely unnecessary.
Next, was my favorite dish of the night – chicken. I don’t remember what was in it, but it was cooked very well and the taste was very good. There was a yucca crisp on top.
The last dish was pork. It was cooked well but I found it bland. There was a cheese bread on top of the pork which I did not understand. However, my wife felt that the dish was very good. However, coming from Barcal the other night where the pork was outstanding, I think this place faced an up hill battle.
Speaking of Barcal, I wrote in my review of that place that the savory food was outstanding while the desserts were disappointing. This place was the complete opposite. Barcal should hire th pastry chef from El Cielo! Then it will be perfect. Anyway, the desserts were good, but it could of been that they were a welcome change from the huge portions and plentiful sauce! The only issue I had with the dessert was they served two ice creams. I would of liked to see more diversity.
The meal finished with a Colombian rum blend which they torched.
petit fours which came out on liquid nitrogen
and one last round of theatrics (flower pedals we were told to rub on our hands)…
Overall, I felt that this meal did not live up to expectations. It could be that with three locations, it is hard to maintain standards. Some of the theatrics (like the expanding towel) should be retired and/or reinvented. I t can be fun to eat with theatrics, but the primary focus should be the food. The dishes need more cohesion. Service was fairly good. A few times empty glasses sat for a long time which should not happen in a restaurant of this caliber. I would not return. 6.5 or 7 / 10