Klass is hidden behind Gran China, the ‘famous’ Chinese restaurant that everyone seems to know about, in vogue 20 years ago, but has since lost customers to Wok (I still haven’t been yet so don’t ask me whether it’s good). The ginormous Chinese façade dwarfs Klass’s unnamed little white house. The restaurant that is named after the chef has no sign, and on a Friday night you may walk straight past the dimly lit barren interior; its dark walls seem to be the only hint this restaurant may have a Belgian root.
Minimalism runs through the restaurant, in the open steel kitchen and even the staff (just Klass and his only assistant, quite a contrast to the kitchen you may see in Astrid y Gaston). That means I did not necessarily have any expectations, which helped make it one of the most memorable dining experience ever.
I started picking on the bread while waiting for others to arrive. The bread was obviously special. The flavor, the crisp, the sound. Turned out that it was really sourdough bread. Once you taste bread made from sourdough, you will not forget it.
If you have been following this blog, you might have already noticed how obsessed I am with bread. Good bread, good wine and a good company is all you need for a good party! When my mom retired (although she got bored after a 2-year stint in retirement), she had to turn her attention somewhere, and hers was bread-making. So, I was lucky to know what sourdough is. They are made with a ‘starter’ that goes through DAYS of fermentation, not with any raising agent. The yeast occurs naturally, and the ‘starter’ has been kicking for god knows how long, pretty much a living thing.
Where else would you get sourdough in Bogota? As I started asking him about his bread, he went to the back of the kitchen and brought over a huge bucket. He opened it. Ewwww. It’s the sourdough! The smelly, fermenting mess is still bubbling with gas!
I decided to write about him now because it’s Novena time (the 9 days running up to Christmas, in which Bogotanos gather with family and friends to pray, but nowadays it is simply just eating and drinking). The baguette and kamut bread from Klass would make a lovely alternative for the Novena/Christmas table. You could get it from their stand at the monthly brunch fair at Museo Chico. You can also order delivery, and make sure you do that 1 day in advance. Last week, I turned up unannounced at 8pm to get some of their blue cheese and nuts bread. There was none left for me.
Klass has no menu, the dishes change depending on what’s in season. When I went, I tried an amazing 20-hour slow cooked ribs (with a homemade marmalade glaze and Sichuan pepper) served with pecan, hazelnut and mushrooms rice, coq au vin and salmon lasagna with homemade beetroot pasta. Belgians know their desserts and chocolates best, so dessert was a trio of chocolate fondant, homemade caramelised orange or vanilla ice-cream, and a homemade raspberry compote. The chocolate fondant was totally fondant. Speechless.
You will have noticed that there is a lot of ‘homemade’. Klass makes an effort to grow and make everything he possibly can. The food melts you – perhaps because they’re cooked by a ‘native’ which really makes the tastes different? Every mouthful was like traveling to Europe, every mouthful evokes the question – why, how is this possible? Every mouthful gives you an overwhelmingly complex sensation that is not found at the ‘famous’ restaurants where the sauce is cooked by 1 chef, the the meat by another, the desserts by another.. It’s personal, it’s like going back in time, before the rise of the rarified process of manufacturing and alienation of labour.
There’s something really special about having your cook describe the menu to you, seeing him pours in all his heart in the kitchen, then his eyes sparkle with the excitement when serving you his masterpieces. He clears the dishes away, asks you how you liked them, and gives you the bill. You feel the chef in the food.
He shows what eating at a restaurant is truly about – the thoughts and passion that have gone into the dish, the alchemistic process of turning nature into culture, fruits into jam, milk into cheese (since Klass makes all of those). It’s about experiencing and feeling how the chef feels and the relationship between the chef and the guest. It’s transformative and magical.
It’s not glamorous. Nor is it ostentatious. But it’s not like eating comfort food at home either. It feels like dining at the chef’s table, but not like one of those celebrity chef’s table which can be contrived, when ultra professional waiters place your cutlery with precision and scrap crumbs mechanically off your tablecloth. It’s honest and personal. It’s public, yet intimate – a great choice for hosting more private parties without having to worry about having a hysteric crowd bursting out next to you.
Klass shows that cooking isn’t just about putting the right ingredients together. He poses a dilemma of the modern restaurants business – the need to keep the quality but also expand, have shareholders and make fat profits. The question is – what if one day Klass becomes popular? How will it respond to a high volume of customers with only 2 staff? How can he keeps going to tables doing everything from taking orders to serving?
Think of it as your ‘private kitchen’. Since it’s not a commercial restaurant with high traffic volume, it’s best to go in a large party and reserve ahead, so Klass can prepare for the night. The time I had that incredible dinner – there were 16 of us. It’s a small restaurant so they may stock only 1 red wine at a time. See if you could try BYOB (bring your own bottle)..
Calle 77A * 12, Tel: 530 5074