First Bites

Bolivar on SoBe: $9.99 For Bandeja Paisa, Soft Drink Included

Restaurants come and go with the seasons on Washington Avenue in South Beach. One of the latest to arrive is Bolivar Restaurant, "Fusion De Cocinas & Tragos."

Jairo Hurtado, who also operates La Ventana, debuted this colorful Colombian - Peruvian - Venezuelan eatery about four months ago. The floor, tables, chairs, bar, and bar stools are dark wood; the walls are brushed in blue and boast bright Latin American artwork. The menu is a mix of soups, appetizers, ceviches and main plates, with each dish sourced to country of origin in parenthesis. Besides the three cuisines noted above, there are also staples of Brazil (Picanha), Ecuador (chanchito), Chile (mariscos al ajillo), and Bolivia (pollo andino).

A full bar menu of cocktails and snappy Latin music playing over the speakers draw a lounge-y night crowd, but foodies might take note of a daily lunch special (noon to 4 p.m.) of any menu entree, with beverage, for $9.99. I might mention that the entrees are very large. A glass of house wine, sangria, or beer-of-the-day goes for $2.99. Presidente was featured when I lunched here, a nice complement to the two Colombian specialties I sampled: tamal Valluno and bandeja paisa.

I started with the tamal -- a rather filling beginning. Large, succulent morsels of chicken and pork are wrapped in an achiote-orange cornmeal, the meats mixed with carrots, yellow potatoes and peas. It's a fantastic tamal, but if you want a hot tamal, apply some vinegar-based aji picante.

Bandeja paisa is Colombia's national dish. It is traditionally served on an oval plate and contains 13 main ingredients. Most places in America, including Bolivar, skip a few of the more exotic components, such as black pudding. The rendition here (on a square plate) features crisply fried pork rinds, sweet plantains, an avocado wedge, strips of grilled skirt steak, white rice, very flavorful red beans, a grilled arepa cake, and a fried egg on top. The egg was overcooked, and they forgot to include a lime wedge, but everything else was fresh and tasty -- and, as mentioned, with soda (and refill), the bill is $9.99. Add $2 if you want an espresso to cap things off.

Bolivar is a pretty, friendly restaurant with fresh, flavorful food and very good prices. Let's hope it's one of those few restaurants that come and stay on Washington Avenue.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein