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June 23, 2010

Try a taste of Colombia, señor

La Colombiana offers up South American treats

Our city is blessed with Latino treats. In addition to a flotilla of taquerias, we’ve got landmarks like Bruce Ucán’s Mayan Café with its Mayan fare from Yucatan and Guatemala, and Anthony Lamas’ Seviche with its Nuevo Latino smorgasbord of goodies from Sonora to Tierra del Fuego.

So why do we remain cursed with a widespread attitude among diners that South of the Border food consists of tacos, burritos and guacamole all the way down?

The cuisines of the Western Hemisphere, from Mexico through Central America and down through South America, are as rich and diverse as, well, the cuisines of our 50 states.

Last month, we gained another new flavor of Hispanic America as La Colombiana — the region’s first Colombian restaurant — opened in Lyndon in the shopping center quarters vacated by FireFresh Barbecue.

This is not Mexican, folks. Colombia is located on the northern end of South America.

If there’s one iconic food in Colombian cuisine (and that of its neighbor Venezuela), it must be the arepa, a thick, savory corn cake. These are so popular that parts of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens are lined with arepa vendors cooking their wares over charcoal fires late into the night.

I don’t think Louisville is ready for that yet, but La Colombiana produces a darn good version indoors. You’ll find them in several dishes on the short but enticing menu, which features maybe 20 selections from $6.50 (for a couple of brunch-style dishes) to $13.99 (for Bandeja Paisa, a combo plate).

You might start with Arepas Rellenas (stuffed arepas), which are toasted in butter, slit and stuffed with beans and cheese ($5.50) or your choice of just about any meat or poultry on the menu ($6.99). Colombia has plenty of beef, and the menu shows it with seven cow-based dishes including a couple of goodies made with beef tongue (lengua).

La Colombiana spruces up the former barbecue shop, a large room on the end of the building with huge windows along two walls to make it a bright place on a sunny day.

Colombian coffee ($1.50) is served, of course, strong and black, fresh and clean, with a few grounds in the bottom of the stoneware mug to indicate genuineness.

The aforementioned Bandeja Paisa ($9.99 for a lunch order, $13.99 full-size) came on an oval plate piled high with white rice; red beans in a savory sauce; a couple of slices of fried plantain; a silver-dollar size white-corn arepa; a crispy-fatty chunk of chicharron (pork belly); a fat link of mild, smoky chorizo; fresh avocado; and a slice of thin, somewhat chewy but beefy marinated and grilled skirt steak.

Huevos Pericos con Arepa ($6.99), a brunch dish, features a plate-size, thick yellow arepa topped with a mound of fluffy eggs scrambled with tiny bits of diced tomato and onion.

An extremely good Sunday midday meal came to $21.18 plus a $6 tip. Service is invariably friendly if not always right on the spot, and there’s zero language barrier.

La Colombiana
808 Lyndon Lane, Suite 105
749-1179
Robin Garr’s rating: 81 points

Taste your Asia four ways

Speaking of new ethnic arrivals in spaces formerly occupied by other restaurants, A Taste of Asia has landed in the shopping-center space formerly occupied by Tony Boombozz’s North Hurstbourne quarters before Boombozz moved to Westport Village.

The name fits the fare: A Taste of Asia’s short but appetizing menu covers four nations: Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and China. The venue, half of the old Boombozz facilities, is now a long, narrow room with an attractive fireplace-and-sofa sitting nook, a serving station where you place your order, and a combination of black four-top tables, tall bar tables and a short banquette.

Starters and salads range from $3.99 (for six potstickers) to $4.59 (for salads, lettuce wraps, chicken satay or a four-piece order of egg rolls). Thai and Vietnamese dinner-size soups are $6.99; nine choices of sushi roll range from $6.99 (for California roll and several others) to $9.99 (for soft-shell crab “spider roll” or the impressive multi-fish rainbow roll). Want a stir-fry? Choose one from Column A and one from Column B to mix up your choice of chicken or beef ($6.99), shrimp or salmon ($7.99) with veggies and steamed or fried rice or lo mein noodles.

The California roll ($6.99) consisted of eight pieces with real crab, not the usual crab “shapes” rolled in with carrot and cucumber. The menu mentioned avocado, but I didn’t see it. Still, it was good, presented on a swash of sweet-hot sauce piquant enough to get my attention. I didn’t mind, but it’s an odd thing to find peppery fire on a plate of California rolls. Heat-haters, be warned.

Thai Tom Khan Gai soup was both sweet and savory: A gently spicy coconut milk soup scented with galangal (akin to ginger), lemongrass and fresh cilantro filled a large bowl, with tidbits of mushroom and tender white chicken meat. It was delicious but made a rather liquid meal, so Mary supplemented it with a bowl of rice (no extra charge).

I put together a shrimp stir-fry ($7.99), a steaming bowl of small, tender shrimp tossed with broccoli, carrot shreds, red and green bell peppers, water chestnuts and mushrooms in a spicy, sweet-hot sauce over steamed rice.

With iced water and hot green tea, dinner for two, which really could have served three, came to $24.97, plus a $5 tip. (By the way, if you plan to use a credit card, be sure to bring along a little cash to take care of the friendly staff: The credit card signature slip contains no tip line.)

Taste of Asia
2809 N. Hurstbourne Pkwy., Suite 101
365-1111
Robin Garr’s rating: 81 points