Last night I drove my aunt and uncle to a concert in St. Paul. Prior to the concert, we went to La Gran Colombia, a restaurant of my choosing that I hadn't previously been to.
THE PLACE: La Gran Colombia is located a short distance north of Downtown Minneapolis on the corner of 22nd Ave NE and Central Ave NE. Entering the small dining room, I was greeted with an "hola" to which I responded (not in my Spanish speaking mood) with a "table for three please". The waitress answered in English, and promptly assigned us one of the perhaps six or seven tables in the room, which was modestly but tastefully decorated, with a few paintings and two flat-screen TVs on each side of the room showing a soccer game. The lighting was rather subdued and the background noise low. The clientele seemed to speak mostly Spanish and a few people entering appeared to be friends with the waiter. At others tables there were families of varying size (La Gran Colombia provided nice table extenders for the larger ones), a single diner, and what looked like a well-dressed mother and her daughter. Seating consisted of booths and standard chairs, with movable (non-fixed) tables. All in all, the restaurant provided a friendly ambiance suitable for a family dinner, date, or even a Chowish solo visit.
The restaurant has Colombian and Ecuadorian items on the menu. Other than the pop, we stayed on the Colombian side.
THE FOOD (and drink): The three of us began our meal with two appetizers, along with two Inca Kolas (a fruity Peruvian soft drink) and one glass of wine (I tasted it and was not impressed, though I haven't really developed a wine taste yet). The first appetizer was calamares fritos (fried calamari); these were actually very good and unlike the calamari I had previously eaten and disliked at our local Italian restaurant Bellisio's. The second appetizer, which I ordered, was habas con queso or fava beans with cheese; it came exactly as described on the menu: fava beans with some good cheese. The favas were rather plain, but I don't think I could expect more.
For the main course, we each ordered a separate dish (which we shared to some extent): I ordered the "Bandeja Paisa" (a large combination dish often identified with Colombia itself), my uncle the "Picada La Gran Colombia" (a large meat-centric combination dish), and my aunt the "Sobrebarriga a la Criolla" (flank steak in creole sauce with rice and beans and other sides).
The bandeja paisa arrived on a large plate. Despite the surface area of the plate, the dish came with so much food that it was basically stacked. The menu describes it as "grilled top sirloin with rice, crackling, fried egg, beans, chorizo, corn cake (arepa), avocado, and sweet plantain.
The "grilled top sirloin" came in a strip was fairly tender, probably meant to be mixed in with the beans and rice, which were good.
The bean sauce was interesting: beans, a nice gravy, and cubes of some vegetable I believe.
The egg was...an egg and sat on the rice.
I should mention that the dish was very well presented and came in such a quantity as to require that it be stacked on the plate.
The sausage / chorizo had an interesting flavor to it and an unusual "notched" shape. My uncle loved it, although I felt it was a little too much in combination with the crackling, which came in a very big long sausage-like strip. It was not bad, but I couldn't eat too much of it.
The arepa was rather plain, but it could have been meant to be dipped, and at least it was nice to try.
I thought I disliked all banana products...but the "maduro" (sweet plantain) was very good and did not have an overly "fruity" taste but was very sweet. I believe it ws fried.
I couldn't eat the avocado. In fact, I barely ate the crackling, and didn't finish my plate. This is after a day of restricted eating. Although the entrees may seem expensive, they can easily make 2 meals.
I also tried a little of my aunt's and uncle's dishes. My aunt's was excellent; a strip of steak in a very good house creole sauce. I strongly recommend it and would rather have ordered it than the bandeja, but that's simply because my preferences aren't so carnivorous (but the "quality" factor of the plate seemed high). My uncle's was an assortment of various meaty stuff, and while I did not care too much for it (rather plain), he loved it. In fact, both loved their meal and my uncle said it was the best restaurant food he's eaten in a long time - and he goes to restaurants all the time. He said he'd definitely return if in "The Cities" again.
We also asked the kind and fast (at least for a pregnant woman!) waitress how business was. She said it was rather slow on the weekdays but better on the weekends, and their new breakfast hasn't been bringing that many people in...yet. My guess it is a lack of exposure, since nothing is lacking food (quality or quantity!) and service. I strongly recommend that anybody who hasn't been to this restaurant go and patronize it, and make sure another great place doesn't sink because of the recession or want of exposure.
Pictured in order of upload: Picada "La Gran Colombia", Sobrebarriga a la Criolla, Bandeja Paisa, Calamares Fritos. Not pictured: Habas con queso.