Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kolumbien: Hin und wieder

It seemed for a while like Colombia might have been done in by The Curse. Friends of ours live next to Tierra Colombiana, so it had been on my radar for a long time, but the last time we were there I noticed a "closed until further notice"-type of sign in the window. Hmmmmmmm. La Chiva, another Kreuzberg Colombian spot closed "temporarily" due to some kind of "technical difficulty." They kept pushing their reopening date back (a real hoot when you show up the day after the originally posted reopening date) and are as of this writing neither open (as far as I can tell) nor answering their phone (or should I say, responding to calls because they only have a cell phone with a message saying they'll call you back). Just as I was about to give up on Colombia entirely, I called Tierra Colombiana one more time and they had magically reopened. Maybe The Curse can bring a restaurant back to life, too?

As it happens, I know a little something about Colombian food. My parents lived in Colombia before I was born. I don't remember them ever cooking anything Colombian at home, so they can't have missed the food all that much, but we did occasionally eat at a local Colombian hole-in-the-wall. Also, I spent a summer as an exchange student in western Venezuela and while they fact that yo soy marachucha means I'm required to tell you that arepas are really Venezuelan, in all honesty the two countries have very similar cuisines. In my experience, Colombian restaurants in the US have a fairly uniform menu and this is basically what you'll find at Tierra Colombiana. Between three of us, we shared the Picada Mixta, a Bandeja Paisa, and Ajiaco Bogotano. The Picada Mixta is a plate of little fried things (empanadas, yuca, tostones (fried unripe plantains), and chicharrĂ³n (fried pork belly) with a little hot salsa for dipping. What to was ok. The empanadas were a little greasy and bland and the salsa didn't have much heat or flavor. It's not a dish I would ever order again, though in all fairness, little fried bits are never my favorite. I had high hopes for the Bandeja Paisa - this is the national dish and any self-respecting Colombian restaurant should have it down. Wikipedia has this to say about the dish: "the main characteristic ... is the oversized amount of food and the wide variety of ingredients." Tierra Colombiana's version just didn't live up to this at all. It's not that I need or want to stuff myself silly, but this is peasant fare. It should be hearty and flavorful and fill you up so you can plow your Andean fields The chicharrĂ³n and chorizo were both good, if a little on the small side, but the beans were just wan. Sad, sad beans with very little flavor. Beans for a Bandeja Paisa need be cooked with a nice ham hock or the like and these beans were most definitely porcine-free. Tierra Colombiana has a surprising number of vegetarian options for a Colombian restaurant and I guess that's great, but they need to make a separate pot of beans for those dishes (with caramelized onion or something for a little flavor) and not force flavorless vegetarian beans on customers ordering the non-vegetarian Bandeja Paisa (ie, not the one with the soy patty). I hate to go on and on (really I do - I wish I had loved the place), but the rice was also sad. Great rice is harder to make than one might think, but this seemed dry and leftover, which just isn't acceptable. I will say that the Ajiaco Bogotano (a lightly creamy soup with chicken and potatoes, flavored with capers and guascas) was very decent. Not life changing, but a nice bowl of soup. To finish our Colombian feast, we shared a portion of Brevas con Arequipe y Queso or candied fig with arequipe (very similar to dulce de leche) and fresh cheese. This is just about three sweet bites and it's a nice, typically Colombian way to end the meal. Another point of excitement: Tierra Colombia offers three Colombian beers and a variety of Colombian rum and aguardiente. Unfortunately, in Germany of all places, Colombian beer isn't enough to overcome Tierra Colombiana's shortcomings.

Tierra Colombiana
Mittenwalder Str. 27

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