The fine dining enterprise launched by Juan Manuel Barrientos in Colombia has continued to expand despite the pandemic. Anchored by the experiential El Cielo restaurants in Medellín, Bogotá & Miami, El Cielo Hospitality group has stayed busy through temporary shut downs by creating the 28-suite El Cielo Hotel located in Medellin’s Astorga neighborhood near the Poblado Park.
By itself, that would be a feat for any entrepreneur, but almost simultaneously, Barrientos and his team have opened a Washington DC location for his molecular gastronomy focused El Cielo Restaurants, adding to his Miami, Medellín and Bogotá locations. El Cielo has been voted as one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America.
El Cielo Hotel
El Cielo Hotel is a $15 million USD project that started in January 2019. The 28-room boutique style all-suite hotel is, as are the restaurants, focused on gastronomic and sensory experience. The hotel lobby is actually on the top, fifth floor of the hotel, and the ground floor serves as the new location for El Cielo Medellin.
The basement houses the Navegante Bar, designed to have a clandestine, exclusive feel inspired by the prohibition-era North American speakeasy. The second, third and fourth floors each have eight suites, and another four share the fifth floor with the lobby and welcome lounge.
Rooms are finished in wood and marble, with Egyptian linens, automated illuminations, and 65-inch smart televisions. “El Cielo Hotel is the project with the best luxury experiences in Colombia and one of the best in Latin America. People will live memorable experiences in every moment. Personally, it’s realizing a dream that I have been working on for several years and that I hope continues showing the best of my country,” said chef and CEO Juan Manuel Barrientos.
The hotel’s roof houses a swimming pool and the hotel’s third bar. The pool area has a wellness area for guests, and a fitness space for exercise. The entire building is decorated with vertical gardens featuring native Colombian plants: living walls of flora.
El Cielo Washington
68-seat El Cielo Washington has opened at Union Market’s La Cosecha, 1280 4th St. N.E. featuring an a la carte menu fusing traditional Colombian ingredients with Barrientos’ molecular gastronomy innovations. The restaurant features dishes like Yucca Gnocchis, served with sweet plantain honey and pecorino cheese foam; Tuna Watermelon Tataki, a cured tuna tiradito served with cherry tomatoes and achiote; Branzino en Costra de Sal, an entire branzino cooked in a salt crust and served with coconut rice, tamarind, and green plantains. A la carte dishes are priced between $9 and $68 in the main seating area.
“But wait, there’s more:” Nestled behind the main dining room is an intimate 18-seat fine dining room that offers two progressive menu formats, Journey Menu (15 courses) and The Experience Menu (22 courses) that are inspired in ancestral Colombian cuisine using creative Avant Garde techniques. The sequence of dishes not only follows a unique journey through Barrientos’s love for his home country but is meant to thrill all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. For instance, both menus involve immersive moments like the iconic choco-therapy – a ritual where guests wash their hands with liquid chocolate and then get to taste it straight from their fingers, are magically orchestrated at the hands of the talented team. These menus are priced at $135 and $195 per person.
“El Cielo is an incubator of creativity where my team and I are constantly studying, discovering and executing new ways to tell the story of our country, Colombia,” said Barrientos. “We are thrilled to be able to open our doors in the nation’s capital and be able to showcase our love for Colombian food using local products and contribute to the excitement of D.C.’s top dining scene.”
In addition to El Cielo’s Medellín, Bogotá, Miami & DC locations, the group also owns Medellín restaurant concepts such as La Serenissima Italian-themed, Cuon Asian-fusion and its 2nd floor Shibari bar, Papaya Guacamaya in Llanogrande, Cerdologia—a shrine to pork, wellness themed KAI, and Mexican Aguafresca where tacos and mezcal star.
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday beginning at 4:00PM. Lunch is available Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 12:00PM. Reservations can be made through the Tock reservation system. For parties of six or more, the restaurant asks that diners contact them directly at [email protected].
“There is something unique and attractive about activating all your senses at once, particularly while enjoying a meal. Our goal is not only to create artistic dishes, but to engage with our guests and create truly memorable culinary experiences,” said Barrientos.
To commemorate Washington DC’s traditional Cherry Blossom Festival, Barrientos and his team have launched the “Cherry Picks Menu” a 3-course menu featuring casual dishes like Colombian empanadas, made with sweet plantain, cheese, potatoes, and spicy peanuts; Lechona, the traditional Colombian suckling pig with elcielo’s twist; Mushroom Ceviche, seasonal mushrooms marinated in lulo sauce, a Colombian fruit; Pollo Criollo – Barriento’s interpretation of the dish made with organic chicken and cooked with hogao (Colombia classic sauce) and fresh herbs. For the sweet finale, guests can indulge in a traditional street favorite, an Oblea, a round full of Arequipe (dulce de leche) a traditional Colombian caramel; or the Cherry Blossom Dessert a sweet pastry made with sour soup, white chocolate, and a Cherry tartar sweet acid sauce inside. The menu is priced at $55 per person. A special seasonal Old-Fashioned cocktail smoked with cherry wood will also be available and priced at $19. This special menu will run from March 20th to April 11th.
Barriento’s design vision of his DC restaurant was executed by Potomac Construction and DesignCase. The firms combined their passion and talent for architecture and impact design to ensure that El Cielo’s style was consistent with sister restaurants in Medellin, Bogota, and Miami.
From a restaurant to an experiential enterprise
Hailing from a family of coffee growers, Juan Manuel Barrientos is the youngest chef to be recognized among the 50 best chefs in Latin America by San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best three consecutive years (2013, 2014, 2015). He honed his craft while working in some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the globe including working with Chef Juan Mari Arzak in Spain and with Chef Iwao Komiyama in Argentina. An advocate of peace, Barrientos launched the El Cielo Foundation over a decade ago targeting violence in his native Colombia and building the capacity of wounded warriors, former guerrilla soldiers, and indigenous peoples.