The apt motto at Bamboo Restaurant is: “Bring your umbrella because attention will be pouring.” Owner Emilio Agudelo greets customers and loves to sit with them and talk up a storm.
A native of Medellin, Agudelo ran an outdoor ranch-style bar and eatery there before coming to New York two decades ago to work construction. He got back into the restaurant business when he relocated to Miami, opening his current place four years ago and naming it for a bamboo grove he played in as a child.
He hired niece Nubia Giraldo to run the kitchen, where she turns out hearty soups, grilled meats and seafood in Creole sauces, plus tamales, pancakes and changua milk soup with eggs for breakfast.
With both Caribbean and Pacific coasts, Andean highlands, fish-filled rivers and plains where cattle are raised, Colombia has a tremendously varied cuisine. The unofficial national dish is the bandeja paisa, a platter with red beans, rice, steak, sweet plantains, white corn cake, chicharrones and a fried egg.
Starters at Bamboo include pan de bono (yuca bread), papa criolla (small yellow potatoes, great with the house-made hot sauce) and buñuelos (sweet and salty cheese balls).
Soups are a meal in a bowl with a side of rice and tomato and beet salad. Sancocho has beef ribs, corn and tubers in cilantro-spiked broth. (On Saturday it has oxtails, and on Sunday it is made with hen.)
There is nothing more Colombian than a mojarra frita (whole fried spot fish), similar to snapper but fatter, served with green plantains and arroz con coco (rice cooked in coconut milk; ask for it, as it’s not listed on the menu). The fish has sweet, flaky, white flesh beneath crisp skin, and needs just a squeeze of lime.
Wash it all down with green lulo juice made from a tropical citrus fruit that tastes like pineapple and lemon. For dessert, capricho (“whim” ) is Chantilly cream layered with cookies and served with a smile.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami food writer and personal chef who blogs at FoodIndiaCook.com.