Halfway through El Cielo’s cocktail tasting experience, guests are presented with The Playa, a rum and tequila piña colada riff that’s sipped frozen from a hollowed out coconut. The potent concoction is set on a platter of sand with a tiny umbrella, and served alongside a bite-sized lobster ceviche roll. The beach-y combination, unexpected for a Michelin-starred restaurant, weaves together feelings of upscale indulgence with an unstuffy and entertaining vibe.
It’s an atmosphere of “have fun, let’s party,” says Andrés Carrasco, who shakes and stirs up the action alongside his colleague Orlando Galleguillos. Together, Carrasco as lead bartender and Galleguillos as bar manager, are the faces of the Colombian restaurant’s new bar tasting menu, a progression of four cocktails and four paired bites.
Priced at $120 per person, the menu is overseen by El Cielo’s chef and owner Juan Manuel Barrientos (nicknamed “Juanma,”) and developed in collaboration with Washington chef de cuisine Sebastian Moreno and, of course, Gaillaguillos and Carrasco. Offering a glimpse into El Cielo’s modern and creative cooking — without the commitment of a lengthy and pricey tasting menu ($198 to $258) — it provides a unique front-row seat to the finesse and talent behind the bar.
“At the bar, like in the kitchen, we are driven by innovation,” Galleguillos says. “We have to be at the forefront of creativity and we are infected by a healthy dose of curiosity.”
The abbreviated format (about 90 minutes for a seating) gets the alcohol flowing straight away. The opening drink, called the Chimberito, is a strong tropical blend of equal parts aguardiente, cachaça and blended soursop puree along with accents of yuzu and thyme. The show continues with the Don’t Give a Papaya, a marriage of rum, mezcal, fruit juices and syrups that arrives in a colorful and carnival-style jaguar or crocodile head. The smokey cocktail pairs with the Tree of Life, a cheesy, gooey yucca flatbread that’s rightfully one of El Cielo’s signature dishes. And in this case, it’s a perfect base for the evening’s cocktail parade.
Before the dessert course, there’s an option to order additional food or cocktails a la carte from a selection of El Cielo’s menu. Current options include yucca gnocchi with an Appalachian cheese sauce ($25) and duck with creamy rice, wild garlic and maitake mushrooms ($40).
While it’s certainly not a budget night out, El Cielo’s bar tasting menu is a good value, especially considering that most high-end cocktails in D.C. are now north of $15 before tax and gratuity. And the team says they’re enjoying sharing chef Juanma’s vision while also proving that there’s more to El Cielo than the dining room.
“Guests love the interactions they have with us at the bar,” Galleguillos says. “They love seeing us churn out cocktail after cocktail.”
Reservations for the bar experience are available on Tock.