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This Modernist Colombian Tasting Menu Asks Guests to Wash Their Hands With Chocolate

Eater logo Eater 11/8/2019 Adele Chapin
a hand holding a knife and fork: El Cielo’s tasting menu includes “sensory immersions” like washing your hands with chocolate © Photo: Juan Muñeton El Cielo’s tasting menu includes “sensory immersions” like washing your hands with chocolate

Like the majority of La Cosecha tenants, El Cielo’s space in the Latin American market is still under construction. To get a head start on making modernist Colombian cuisine out of Mid-Atlantic produce, chef Juan Manuel Barrientos just started running a pop-up tasting menu (eight courses for $125 per person) that’s taking reservations in the market’s culinary immersion studio ahead of a targeted opening in January.

Juan Manuel Barrientos Valencia wearing a white shirt © Photo: Mario Alzate
This is the first East Coast restaurant for Juan Manuel “Juanma” Barrientos

”We didn’t want to open the restaurant from scratch,” Barrientos says. “We’re using this period to test everything to allow ourselves to change things, to understand the client, to hear them, to talk to them, to understand the culture, the environment, the seasons.”

Barrientos is a big name in Colombia who has first opened El Cielo locations in Medellín and Bogotá. He opened his first U.S. outpost in Miami a few years ago, but the latest iteration is the first locale in which he’ll source ingredients with four distinct seasons.

His “A Colombian Journey” tasting menu preview includes “sensory experiences,” which means means guests wake up their taste buds by washing their hands with chocolate.

“It kind of excites you to eat,” Barrientos says.

Other courses include the “Fish Full of Coconut,” a Cartagena-inspired dishes with turbot, coconut rice, tamarind vinegar gel, and seawater gel. The “Tree of Life” is a gluten-free, bonsai tree-shaped yuca bread that Barrientos calls his most iconic dish.

fireworks in the sky © Photo: Juan Muñeton
One of Chef Barrientos’ most famous dishes is a bonsai-shaped yuca bread called the “Tree of Life”

Barrientos’s cooking has attracted celebrity fans: friend Cindy Crawford comments on his Instagram all the time, and he says she may visit the D.C. restaurant.

He’s already experienced D.C’s political scene a bit, having cooked at the Colombian Embassy in D.C. in 2016 for a dinner and been invited by President Obama’s White House to a Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2016 at Stanford.

”I love this city,” Barrientos said, calling out D.C.’s diversity and restaurant scene.

“The power of this country lies in its diversity of cultures, and with La Cosecha, having a Latin marketplace helps build the Latin community and make it stronger, which, in return, makes the country stronger, empowering true American values, including living together in peace,” he said.

El Cielo’s pop-up tasting menu preview is available Wednesdays through Saturdays with 6:30pm and 9. p.m. seatings, with reservations required.

There are also seatings from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays for brunch, which open to walk-ins or reservations, made by emailing El Cielo.

The experience doesn’t include alcoholic drinks, but La Cosecha’s cocktail bar Serenata will offer wine pairings and specialty cocktails for an additional price. When El Cielo moves into its permanent space, tasting menus will span 20-25 dishes.

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