Thursday, February 19, 2009

An unusual morning

I went to bed with a splitting headache last night which eventually converted itself into a full blown migraine as I found out at 3:30 AM. I tried to fend it off with just water (I'm generally averse to taking meds if I can avoid it), but the pain became increasingly severe until I finally took the new meds that I got prescribed just a couple weeks ago. I´m supposed to take the meds at the onset of the migraine but I was stubborn. Fortunately, the new meds work wonders and I now feel nothing but a rather dull emptiness where previously there was pain. I wouldn't say I'm 100% but I definitely am not in pain and that is good enough for the moment.

Anyway, when I finally got up for good and went off to work, I discovered that there was a protest blocking the Transmilenio which meant there were no buses. I waited awhile and was on the point of giving up and "working from home" when finally an onslaught of buses invaded the station. The protest seemed to have finished.

When I got to the Candelaria I started off toward the office as normal. There was nothing particularly different about the walk until, when I was relatively close, I came up behind a young lady that was walking quite awkwardly. I took note of it and then wondered, almost immediately, if she was actually a man. I gave her a sideways glance when I passed her and really, I can't be sure if she was male or shemale. With plastic surgery and makeup and only giving her a glance, it could have gone either way. Perhaps the only way to answer the question would be to give her the Crocodile Dundee.

Finally arriving at the office I found that, yet again, my boss was not present, and the translation she had asked me to do was likewise nowhere to be found. It's now 11:15 and neither the boss nor the translation has shown up. So, I ask, why, exactly, did I bother showing up for work today?


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mini-Restaurant Guide

While this is by no means comprehensive, I decided to present a mini-restaurant guide for some of Bogota's finer restaurants. Keep in mind, the following list is not the Poor Man's Guide to Eating Out in Bogota. Good food costs money and Bogota isn't cheap. If you want the under $5,000 peso guide, look elsewhere because I don't like eating crap and the bottom line is that any meal you buy in Bogota that costs under $5,000 pesos (or $2.50 US) is likely going to be suspect in quality and freshness and has a high probability of inducing gut wrenching illness. Now, the list:

Patagonia, Calle 117 #7-54 and Carrera 6 #10-01

The Patagonia is a traditional Argentinean grill. It’s a rustic, well apportioned joint with somewhat unusual décor and a very limited menu. Vegetarians need not apply.
This was the clear favorite for a good bit of time but of late the product hasn’t been as consistently good as expected. Still, the Bife de Chorizo is outstanding and when they’re on, it’s the best meat in Bogota. Don’t miss the grilled provolone starter. It’s to die for.

La Biferia, Zona G and Calle 79B #8-79

A bit more upscale but still an excellent product. Falls in the same price range as the Patagonia, which is to say, a bit expensive by Bogota standards, but not terribly so like Andres Carne de Res. The service is good, the décor rather classic, and one would feel most comfortable wearing semi-formal attire.

La Bonga del Sinu, Calle 116 #19-89, Parque 93

Meat eating should be casual and at the Bonga you don’t have to worry about putting on your blue suede shoes or any other such nonsense. Instead you get all your basic meat cuts, cooked to order, with a choice of sides that includes coconut rice. Plus, they offer an extensive list of fresh fruit juices and desserts which always look nice but which there is never any room for at the end of the meal.

El Humero, Avenida Prada #5-05, Chia

El Humero is very much like Andres Carne de Res except that it is smaller, cheaper, and not made out to resemble the set of Dusk Til Dawn. Legend has it that the owner used to be the head chef at Andres which probably explains some of the similarities. Recently relocated to a much bigger site, El Humero offers a variety of meat, chicken, pork, and everything in between. Be sure to order the Lomo al Chile (not the precise name, mind you), which is a weighty knuckle of beef stuffed with pickled jalapenos and grilled to order. While it might give you the hot diarrhea the next morning, some prices are worth paying. For a starter, try a traditional dish from Cali. The name escapes me, but it’s a deep fried plantain stuffed with cheese and bocadilla which is a type of sugar made from fruit. Probably better as a dessert.

The only unfortunate thing with El Humero is that it is in Chia.

Typical food

Sopas de la Mama y Postres de la Abuela, various locations

Sopas y Postres is the place to go for typical Colombian food in Bogota. There are those who would recommend other eateries, but with Sopas you get an expansive menu, that is reliantly consistent, of a good quality, and won’t eat a hole in your wallet. Sopas is the kind of joint that has something for everyone – soups, meat, fish, chicken, etc. Try the Fried Ice Cream for dessert and definitely order a giant fruit juice (Strawberry being my preferred selection).

Costal food

La Vitualla, 9th with 106 or so

La Vitualla is a nice little joint that offers coastal classics like Fried Red Snapper and Bluegill, Sancocho de Pescado (a lovely fish soup), and other mains along with coconut rice and white corn patties with suero (which is like sour cream). It’s relatively economical, the fish is always fresh, and the service reasonable for Colombia. Potential diners beware: Several stories have been floating around that the restaurant staff plays it fast and loose with the credit cards – like swiping it twice and delivering only one bill. It’s recommended to only use cash or, if using credit, to verify that you don’t get double charged.

El Rincon Barranquillero, 94 with 16 or so

In spite of its rather unfortunate location and being a second story restaurant, El Rincon Barranquillero provides authentic, costal food at a reasonable price with exceedingly high quality. It has a more expansive menu than La Vitualla, allowing diners to get a taste of coastal traditions not normally found in Bogota. I recommend the Cazuelo de Mariscos which comes at the right temperature (a rarity in my experience) and is overflowing with shrimp, prawns, fish, octopus, and who knows what else. I don’t normally eat one of my favorite animals, but for this dish, I make an exception.


Luna, Calle 82 #11, Zona Rosa

Bogota doesn’t have a wealth of good Italian food but Luna is the kind of place that would be memorable in most big cities. The service is to be desired, but the menu is full of traditional pasta favorites as well as more esoteric or Italian inspired cuisine. I had chicken in a mushroom sauce that was beyond good. Be sure to try the Fried Mozzarella. They make their own batter, the mozzarella is fresh, and the tomato sauce is certainly the best I have ever tasted.

Archie’s Pizza, Various locations

I mention Archie’s under the Italian category because I find their pizzas to be rather pedestrian. But their pasta dishes are extremely palatable and make a more economical alternative to a classy joint like Luna or others. The lasagna in particular is heartily apportioned and overflowing with melted mozzarella.


China Club, Calle 82 #11-91, El Retiro Shopping Mall

Bogota is not a place to go in search of Chinese food. That being said, China Club is spot on. They offer a host of traditional appetizers accompanied with tangy sauces and the General Tso's Chicken is very good. Plus, the restaurant is very popular with Colombia's rich and famous and makes a good spot to do some people watching.

Wok, Various locations

Wok offers a pan asian variety with dishes from Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The quality is extremely high and the price reasonable. Since Colombian people generally don't have palates for spicy food, most dishes, even the ones that warn of being a bit spicy, are really not too spicy at all. Try the spring rolls with black pepper sauce for starters.


El Techo, Calle 82 #11-91, El Retiro Shopping Mall

Mexican food too is catching on in Bogota with El Techo the expensive flagship of the movement. While it will dent your wallet, El Techo offers authentic mexican cuisine in a classy atmosphere that transports diners to a different place and time. Fresh made tortillas, slow cooked spicy beef, and uncountable tequila based cocktails ensure a fine dining experience. Be prepared to pay.

La Taqueria, Calle 82 #12-80 and Calle 116 with the 15

La Taqueria is a more economical mexican option and it offers extremely good fare. The Sopa de Tortilla is to die for and the enchiladas are as good as you'll get anywhere. Plus the price is much more reasonable and the atmosphere relaxed. La Taqueria is perfect for any occassion, be it business or pleasure, and offers a full bar service as well.


1969, Various locations

Pizza in Colombia, I am sure, has come a long way. Still, it could be argued that it has a long way to go. The traditional pizza houses like Jeno’s, Pizza Pizza, and the American brands (Pizza Hut, Dominos) are serviceable but they certainly don’t leave a lasting impression and are likely to make your next trip to the toilet rather unpleasant.

1969, on the other hand, comes with a thick crust, well made pasta sauce, and real American style pepperoni. It’s a good pie, mostly up to US standards of what makes good pizza. The only drawbacks are that they don’t take credit and they only have Pepsi products.


Pan Pa Ya, Various locations

This is a Bogota standard and should not be missed. Try the Caldo de papa for breakfast. It’s divine, an especially good hangover remedy. They also make very good bread and pastries, a decent pizza, and a very serviceable and economical Calzone.


La Bonga Express, Carrera 19 #118-57

This used to be a too good to be true hamburger joint. For about $18,000 ($9 US) one could get a double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a drink. The quality is far beyond that of El Corral, which seems to be the most popular hamburger option in Colombia, and came at a more economical price than the $23,000 peso Todoterreno. Unfortunately, La Bonga released a new menu in December which jacked up the price of this gloriously gluttonous hamburger to a less than reasonable $27,000 pesos. Now this chain aspires to compete with El Corral Gourmet and is priced accordingly. This is disappointing as the Bonga Express does not offer the same type of atmosphere as the El Corral Gourmet and is now increasingly hard to justify.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

NBA Playoff Predictions: Back to the Future

It’s All-Star break time and that means it’s time to make some predictions. I haven’t watched as much NBA as I would like this year but I’ve seen enough to know what’s up. The following is my final four:

LA Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavs, Boston Celtics.

Ok, so no surprises there. One could argue that Orlando will be in the mix but I don’t like their lack of experience and that Jameer Nelson is injured. I think they come up short again.

Now, onto the good stuff.

Why the Lakers won’t win the NBA Championship:

The Lakers are everybody’s favorite. They have the “best player” (not really, but they say it), they have the best record, and they have been virtually unstoppable. But at some level, the Lakers play an emotionally violent style of basketball that is not only aesthetically displeasing from time to time but also leads to a lack of emotional stability in times of crisis.

Last night is a good example. On the road, in Utah, and tired after a long road trip. These are the moments when potential NBA champions are tested. By all measures, the Lakers failed miserably. When the game started to get away from them in the 3rd quarter, their offense collapsed and Kobe started chucking up junk from everywhere to no avail. If Kobe’s on, maybe nobody notices. But he wasn’t on last night and this is not the first time that this team has resorted to the “chuck and duck” strategy when the going gets tough. As we saw in last year’s Finals, Kobe ain’t Jordan and when he tries to be his teammates lay around doing very little. This will hurt them again before it’s all said and done.

(Aside, I loved Okur’s little girly dance after he hit that big 3 pointer. I’m wondering if he was mocking Kobe’s attempt to steal Sam Cassell’s “Big Balls” dance or if Okur naturally dances like a little girl.)

The Lakers also have structural troubles. Their best offensive point guard (Jordan Farmer, who led the 3rd quarter comeback) is a disaster on the defensive end, like most of the 2nd unit. Farmer’s not good enough to put in the starting rotation and Derek Fisher, point guard by default, isn’t really a point guard (more a small shooting guard). Case in point: Fisher averages less than 4 assists a game. This will hurt them before it’s all said and done.

Further, the Pau Gasol addition isn’t going to put them over the top. Gasol is what he is – a skinny, tall guy, with great basketball IQ, a penchant for Soccer style whining, and a feathery touch. That all makes the Lakers better. But there’s no world in which Gasol strikes fear in the Spurs, Celtics, Cavs, or Magic. And when push comes to shove, Gasol gets frozen out of the offense more times than not because Kobe knows this. He knows that Gasol ain’t Shak. He can’t enforce his will on a game, they can’t ride him in the post when they need easy buckets to stop another team’s run, and against big, strong guys, he’s virtually useless in the post. Kobe is smart enough to know this.

Really though, all things being even, the Lakers have been the best team this year. So why won’t the best team so far win the championship? Two reasons: Schedule and Fatigue. Seventeen of their thirty remaining games are on the road. Seventeen of the remaining thirty are against teams with a winning record. And they’ve got a 7 game road trip at the end of March that will be brutal.

This shouldn’t matter, right? Good, professional teams are accustomed to tough schedules. Champions win, right? Maybe in any other year yes. But let’s not forget that the Lakers played a brutal schedule last season, going all the way to the Finals, and then their two key pieces, Gasol and Kobe, went on to play in the Olympics before having about a two month break and starting this NBA season. That’s 111 intense games for two of their most important players. The simple fact is, these guys are tired and are only going to get increasingly tired as the season drags on. That’s why Odom’s insertion into the starting lineup has been so good for them. He’s the only good player they have who is well rested and eager to impact the game.

Perhaps Odom is the one who can carry the load down the stretch, you say. Perhaps. But let’s not forget that Odom is a basketcase with a penchant for marijuana smoking and/or erratic behavior. In other words, I wouldn’t bet on Odom in any situation other than, “Most likely to get caught on Hollywood Boulevard with a half smoked blunt”. Plus, Kobe is an egomaniac who can’t stand it when others on his team have a bigger impact than he does and at the end of the day, he’s taking those shots for better or worse. I, for one, think things end in disappointment for Lakers fans this year.

Why the Celtics won’t win the Championship this year:

The Celtics have played great basketball for about three-quarters of the season and really average basketball for the other part. Normally average is good enough. But this team just reminds me of the Pistons team that, after winning the 2004 championship, thought they could turn it into high gear and ended up coming up short. Like that team, the Celtics lost at least one key bench player in the offseason. And, like that team, the Celts got a bit arrogant to start the season (Pierce: I am the best player in the NBA). This doesn’t mean they won’t make the finals. But something tells me they’re short a piece or two to repeat. Plus, it’s just damn hard to repeat. The competition is too good and the Celtics big 3 isn’t getting any younger.

Why the Cavs won’t win the Championship this year:

Basketball, perhaps more than any other sport, is about matchups. If it’s a Lakers-Cavs Finals, I like the Cavs for a number of reasons (LeBron is a better player than Kobe but Kobe will spend all his energy trying to prove he is the man and that will torpedo team play). But if it’s a Spurs-Cavs Finals, I can’t see the Cavs winning. I won’t go into it in any more detail than the following: We’ve seen this movie and it turned out badly for the Cavs.

Why the Spurs will win the Championship this year:

The Spurs are rested, healthy, experienced, and have Tim Duncan. Need there be any more reason? Oh, and Duncan wins Championships in odd years in the Double-aughts (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007).

Beyond that though, Duncan is playing as well as he ever has, Parker is playing better than ever, and Manu is, well, Manu. Plus they’re getting extremely healthy contributions from Roger Mason (45% on 3 pointers) and dare I say Matt Bonner (49% on 3 pointers). While they don’t play defense as well as they did in the past, I still think this year is their last championship, but I think they get there.

Finals Prediction: Spurs over Cavs in 6


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