Flavors from the equator

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September 27, 2010
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
So, this lady walks into a restaurant …

What sounds like the intro to a bad joke turned out to be the beginning of a terrific evening. The restaurant was La Colonia, a sweet, bright and tidy year-old mom-and-pop on Northeast Central. Mom comes from Ecuador, pop hails from Colombia, and their extensive menu of home cooking covers both South American kitchens. It’s simple, bounteous, and delivered (Ellie, from Cuenca, will be your server) with a smile that makes streetlights unnecessary on this stretch of Central.

Greedy for as many tastes as we could muster, we went for two combination platters, both delivered on a bed of flaky rice. The Bandeja Paisa ($16) covered the mound with a slender, tender slice of top sirloin, along with a lengthy link of Colombian sausage, which tasted, thrillingly, like a good chorizo. And another length of chicharron, aka cracklings, too wickedly salty and fatty to finish sans an ambulance at the curb. But it’s balanced by a section of sweet plantain, sweeter than its banana lookalike by far, and a creamy avocado half. Plus an ever-so-gently fried egg. Plus stewed beans, modestly heightened by onion and tomato. And an ultra-delicious corn cake, tender as a baking powder biscuit. Ellie delivers a dish of hot sauce for the daring Go ahead: It’s terrific — a blend of habaneros with tomatoes to smooth the delicious burn.

That would have been enough for two of us right there, but hey — so we also divided the Bandera platter ($13), plated with dual heaps of stew — tender, long-braised goat on the bone and beef tripe. They’re joined by a mound of diced, soft and tender fried sweet plantains, like potatoes gone to heaven, and a couple of giant shrimp, ceviche style, ultrasweet and fresh and full of texture.

Other offerings run the gamut from empanadas to lots of chicken, fish and beefsteak renditions — and guinea pig (which I’ve enjoyed in Ecuador), if you order it a day ahead — starting at $8.49. I’m coming back for the tuna-yucca soup, myself.

The café offers a minimal, forget-about-it wine list, a couple of beers (we drank Negro Modelo) and, best, an utterly amazing catalog of soft drinks, some from Ecuador, others from Colombia. For dessert, we tried, and loved, a couple of unfamiliar flavors: mine, a juice frothed with (your choice) milk or water. I chose tomate de arbol (translated as wine tree tomato), showcasing a sweet, slightly sharp, citrusy flavor. Loved it. My adventurous pal went for the Ecuadorian oatmeal drink — another thick, soda fountain-like treat that gave off a lemon-lime overtone. Yum again.

Décor here is blessedly free from kitsch, simply a couple of paintings of fellow South Americans at work, a quiet TV humming in Spanish and just as quiet native music. A flurry of Spanish from the Latin families spilling from adjoining booths added all the “décor” the sweet venue needed.