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WHERE EVERYTHING IS ABOUT FAMILY
By Paula Johnson
Photo: Bandeja Paisa from La Colombiana
I am sorry I didn’t get to La Colombiana in Beavercreek on July 20 for Colombian Independence Day. And I’m really sorry I didn’t get there to watch Colombia play in the World Cup. This is because my recent visit, in which there was absolutely nothing special happening, felt so much like a party I can’t imagine what it would have been like if there had really been something to celebrate.
It is always enjoyable to be in a restaurant where the vibe is humming with activity and excitement. Everyone who walked through the door seemed to know someone in the small dining room, and those who didn’t felt welcome and part of the fun. I asked our server if there was a special event going on. He almost looked sheepish as he replied, “We just have a whole lot of regular customers.”
“In Colombia, everything is about family,” owners Martin and Ana Rivera on their website, “and they are always cooking and sharing meals. Colombian people are the happiest people in the world.” I offer my recent experience as evidence they might be right.
All in the family
The hostess and our server, as well as the other servers, were from the Rivera family and did their best to make sure we were informed about Colombian food. Throughout the meal, different servers checked in with us to see if we had questions and to be sure we were enjoying the food. We began with several questions about beverage options.
It was a given one of us had to try the Aguapanela con Queso, a beverage made from sugar cane and cheese. “With cheese?” I asked, not bothering to hide my skepticism. Our server explained the drink is served piping hot. A sweet Colombian cheese is swirled around until it melts into strings, which can then be fished out and eaten. It tasted very much like an extra sweet black tea.
Our waiter told us Aguapanela con Queso paired with the bunuelos we ordered makes a great Colombian breakfast. The bunuelos, the Colombian version of a beignet, were light and doughy and we agreed would indeed be a great way to start a morning. (La Colombiana’s menu states they serve Desayuno Tipico – Colombian breakfast – Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30-3 p.m.)
On to the food. We started with Empanadas con Aji ($5.95), deep-fried golden pockets filled with aromatic beef and potatoes and served with ahi, a spicy salsa condiment which we ate by the spoonful once the empanadas were consumed. We were warned the Arepa de Chocolo ($3.50), a crisp fresh corn fritter, might take a little longer to prepare. The wait was well worth it. Crunchy and grilled with chunks of corn, it was topped with the same sweet mild cheese used in our sugar cane drink.
PIP chose the Bandeja Paisa ($16.99), a mixed grill described as a typical peasant platter, as an entrée. Comprised of Colombian sausage, egg, rice, salad, plantains, pinto beans, marinated steak and pork belly, it was a stand out. Attractively presented on a long rectangular platter, the strip of pork belly was a deep fried arch of rich, melting meat. The vinegary marinade on the steak was tasty and the salad, lightly dressed and shredded with avocado slices, was a perfect balance to the meats and starches. The only thing curiously missing was the Colombian style ground meat, which was listed in the menu description but nowhere to be found on the platter. With the bounty of food on the table, we honestly didn’t miss it until we were recounting our visit.
Colombian cuisine is known for its grilled meat, so I had to try the Chuzos – Pinchos ($7.99), which is made from marinated, skewered and then grilled chicken, pork or beef. The pork was tender and tasted of pepper and cumin. Tiny roasted potatoes with a mild creole dipping sauce, also good for dunking pieces of pork in, were accompanied by a pineapple gratin. The gratin, reminiscent of a bread pudding, surprised us with its unexpected sharpness of cheddar cheese. It was savory, sweet, tangy and really good at offsetting the spices used in the pork marinade!
Having practically licked his plate clean, PIP was approaching his stomach capacity from the meal. But there were two dessert offerings I was dying to try and I didn’t want to appear gluttonous by ordering them both for myself. As it turned out, I had to fight him to share.
The Cautro de Leches cake is a traditional Latin American cake soaked in milk. La Colombiana’s version, made by Ana Rivera, was the best I’ve tried. One perfunctory bite was all PIP was supposed to take, but once he tasted it, it was game on. Fortunately, bloodshed was avoided thanks to the yummy Brevas con Queso y Arequipe, a traditional Colombian dessert made from figs, caramel and queso fresco. Both desserts were $4.99. The total for our whole experience came to only $53.85 plus tip.
The meal’s timing was way beyond leisurely. While they are proud to emphasize everything is made to order, I would advise patrons to simply allow ample time for the experience. But these small, incidental blunders should stop no one from putting La Colombiana on their new favorite restaurant list. It’s certainly on mine.
La Colombiana is located at 2495 Commons Blvd. in Beavercreek. For more information, please call 937-306-8096 or visit lacolombiana.us.
Reach DCP freelance writer Paula Johnson at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.
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