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El Cielo Reaches For The Sky

Chocolate Hand Massage Therapy, photo courtesy El CieloEl Cielo's Black And Yellow Soup, photo by lee kleinPan de Yuca, photo courtesy El CieloEl Cielo Is Meticulous, photo courtesy El CieloEl Cielo's Crab Croquetas, photo by lee kleinFoggy Coffee Service, photo by lee kleinPotato Miloha With Coconut And Curry Pork, photo by lee kleinFarmer's Chicken With Atollado Rice, photo by lee kleinEl Cielo Coffee, photo by lee kleinGinger Ice Cream Dessert At El Cielo, photo by lee kleinChef Juanma, photo courtesy El CieloAguardiente, photo by lee klein

If you didn’t know that ElCielo provides a unique dining experience, you’d probably figure it out shortly after being seated -- like when you’re instructed to place your hands over a large metallic bowl that’s been placed before you while thick liquid white chocolate gets poured into your palms. “White Chocotherapy” it’s called, the aim being for you to massage the cocoa butter into your hands, perhaps licking a few fingers along the way, prior to the waiter pouring water to rinse it all off.

Chef Juanma, photo courtesy El Cielo

Chef/owner Juan Manuel Barrientos (aka Chef Juanma) was just 23 when he debuted the first ElCielo restaurant in his native Medellín, Colombia. A few years later he launched another ElCielo in Bogotá, and in 2015 he brought the concept to the Brickell section of Miami.

Chocolate Hand Massage Therapy, photo courtesy El Cielo

Juanma was evidently influenced while working with renowned chefs Iwao Komivama (Argentina) and Juan Mari Arzak (Spain) early in his career, as ElCielo’s Colombian cuisine comes from an avant-garde, molecular perspective. He credits his experience in neuroscience for creating tasting menus “that awaken emotions.”

There is a choice of tasting menus, among them the “Journey” ($89); “Pescetarian,” a seafood-based menu; and the more extensive “Experience” ($119). Our group took The Journey, which includes four starters, seven small plates and two desserts. Highlights:

Aguardiente, a sugarcane-based spirit, starts diners off in sprightly manner, with an accompanying spoonful of mango, passionfruit, and Colombian lulo jam.

Aguardiente, photo by lee klein

Pan de yucca, or tree of life, is moist, spongy, absolutely delicious, especially when dipped into a cilantro dipping sauce.

Pan de Yuca, photo courtesy El Cielo

Black And Yellow Soup features a perfectly poached egg coated in chopped black truffle, with a truffle-infused corn soup pour in. Mix it all together and you’ve got many heavenly spoonfuls.

El Cielo's Black And Yellow Soup, photo by lee klein

Crab Croquetas dusted in dehydrated squid ink, with a dab of lime gel on top.

El Cielo's Crab Croquetas, photo by lee klein

Potato Miloha layered with a sweet-and-sour coconut-curry pork, with soft goat cheese and caramelized onion dust.

Potato Miloha With Coconut And Curry Pork, photo by lee klein

Farmer's Chicken with arroz atollado (a Colombian rice dish) features a burst of moist chicken breast cooked sous vide over savory vegetarian rice.

Farmer's Chicken With Atollado Rice, photo by lee klein

Ginger ice cream with crumble.

Ginger Ice Cream Dessert At El Cielo, photo by lee klein

After the meal, we are informed that in Colombia, a dense fog tends to roll in during the morning hours as folks drink their coffee. In order to recreate this, coffee plants are placed on the table, and water is poured over a bowl of some carbon dioxide mix, which elicits a faux fog that indeed rolls over the table.

Foggy Coffee Service, photo by lee klein

I think I may have already mentioned that ElCielo is a unique dining experience, but it bears repeating. Great special occasion restaurant, or just grab your most daring foodie friend and give it a try.