Friday, April 4, 2008

Paul Bunyano (Tierras Colombianas, 33-01 Broadway)

We thought we were hungry when we ventured to this Colombian restaurant late on a Saturday night, but then our food came. Keeping things simple, we ordered the first two entrees listed on the menu, the bandeja campesina (the country plate) and the bandeja montañera (the mountain plate). We were warned about the mountain plate's dried shredded beef -- not to be confused with a steak -- but we were undeterred.

For around $12 each, we got steak (shredded or solid) topped with a fried egg, rice, pinto beans, fried plantains, and a chicharrón, basically a huge hunk of fried pork -- think of it as a really thick piece of bacon, or a pork rind for Paul Bunyan. These were meals, no doubt about it, served with astounding promptness, as if they had a stack of grilled steaks in the back, waiting to be ordered. Maybe anyone with any sense who patronizes the place gets what we ordered, so it's always kept ready. (Or maybe it was because the place was about to close for the night, which we hadn't realized.)

Though everything we were brought was appetizing, there was no way we were eating it all, and hacking away at our mega-pork rinds, we wondered if overabundance was meant to be part of the experience. The shredded beef worked well, especially when the yolk spilled from the egg, binding the meat with the rice and beans in a delicious protein-packed mélange. The hammered steak of the country plate, though less exotic, was just as successful (and just as filling -- it came with an avocado wedge, which sadly went untouched in the midst of all the other food).

Tierras Colombianas tends to be mentioned by non-Astorians as being among the pantheon of neighborhood restaurants that are worth crossing the river for. And it is, don't get us wrong, but foodies seeking transporting cuisine may want to go elsewhere. The food is exactly as it should be, but don't come expecting perfect seasoning and tip-top preparation, or even the down-market ambiance that adventure eaters look for. It's not really a dive, not a place where you just sit and stuff your face, and it lacks much substance for sustaining a hearty Anglo ethnocentrism. ("My, isn't it quaint how these ethnic people eat? I believe I understand these Colombians now.") You sit yourself down at one of the pastel diner-like booths, you pick at that has come from the country and the mountain, you look around at the bustle -- whenever we've walked by, the patrons seem nearly manic with meaty delight, as opposed to stuporous after all that food -- and you eat, unadventurously but with earnest satisfaction.

Price: Cheap for what you get. Entrees are around $10.
Will we go again? We're still too full from last time, but could be persuaded.

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