CON SABOR A COLOMBIA
795 Old Country Rd., Westbury
AMBIENCE: Classic Colombian dishes served in a bright dining room
ESSENTIALS: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Major credit cards accepted, accepts reservations, take-out, delivery, limited parking lot, street parking.
Seated in a booth with my companions, I flip page after page of Con Sabor a Colombia’s menu, contemplating the more than 100 dishes written in Spanish and English.
As we decide between main courses, our waiter returns with cans of Colombiana la Nuestra — a reddish, creamy cola — and suggests we mix it with the Mexican Sol cerveza we purchased from the Latin deli next door. The restaurant’s liquor license hasn’t arrived — and soon I discover, on some nights, neither have the avocados or desserts. But we settle in and enjoy the ad hoc rendition of a refajo beer-soda cocktail just the same. And that’s what Con Sabor a Colombia is: not perfect, but authentic and surprisingly satisfying.
The Westbury restaurant, tucked into a strip of stores on Old Country Road, east of the mall commotion, has bright red French doors facing the street. Behind them is a sparsely decorated, yellow, L-shaped dining room with booths and tables.
After ordering, a bowl of roughly chopped iceberg lettuce topped with sliced Roma tomatoes (along with a yellow squeeze bottle of French salad dressing) beat the appetizers to the table. I was heartened with the first few bites of the empanadas, filled with beef or chicken. Instead of the air pockets found in poorly constructed versions, each of these fried yellow cornmeal starters is packed with savory meat and creamy yucca. Another starter showcasing a traditional method is the arepa con queso. This white-corn, pita-shaped cake is chargrilled instead of griddled for a smoky flavor, then topped with a mild white cheese. Its clean, simple flavor gets a boost with a tiny spoonful of spicy aji salsa that accompanies the appetizers. The bright green sauce has a fresh citrus and cilantro flavor with bits of scallion and not-so-subtle heat from jalapeños.
Skip the arepa with steak, which is thin and rubbery from too much time on the grill, and the shrimp ceviche that tasted more like a cold gazpacho with overcooked and rubbery shellfish. Feel like dipping? Try the tostones con guacamole: a handful of smashed, fried but still tender plantains and a tangy, chunky, citrusy guacamole, or the fried yucca with its balanced onion and tomato salsa.
Some of the most interesting and hearty entrees come from combinations under the platos tipicos del chef (chef’s dishes) portion of the menu. The bandeja tipica de la casa a Colombia is a massive platter, big enough for two meals. On a bed of white rice and flavorful, stewed red beans rests a perfectly cooked steak, complete with diamond grill marks, Mexican sausage, a curled fried pork chicharron, and toppers including a dense arepa, a fried egg, and a sweet plantain. The star is the sausage and the crispy, porky chicharron, which is almost better for breakfast with toast the morning after. The bandeja con sabor a Colombia adds in a few sautéed shrimp, and a quarter rotisserie chicken.
Where the shrimp were overcooked in the ceviche, they arrived perfectly tender under the garlicky, creamy scampi sauce that came as part of the restaurant’s surf and turf dish (entraña con camarones al ajillo) and includes a tender skirt steak, a handful of sauced shrimp and a second plate of rice, beans and plantains. By comparison, the camarones al ajillo (shrimp with garlic) is an exercise in austerity: a platter with about seven medium-sized tails-on shrimp bathing in a creamy sauce, accompanied by a second plate of rice and tostones.
The waiter, while helpful in guiding us to authentic dishes, was slow and not attentive.
The dishes emanating from the kitchen at Con Sabor a Colombia feel like they would be right at home in Bogotá, and will be a crowd pleaser to both the Latin community in Westbury and those looking for an alternative to Tex-Mex.