When I travel, I always enjoy trying the local cuisine. Twice now I've done cruises with a stop in Cartegena, Colombia. I found the food great, the beer excellent and the people friendly. The next step was to find a Colombian restaurant here and see if I could enjoy the food as I had before. Imagine my delight when I found out there was a new Colombian restaurant right here in the South County. It is located in Mitze's Kountry Kitchen in Laguna Hills. Mitze's does breakfast and lunch, but at 11AM they start in with their Colombian Cuisine menu. And what a menu it is! Page after page of Colombian specialties, augmented by daily specials too. It was hard to know where to start.
Appetizers are a popular part of the Colombian meal, so we started with an order of Arepas con Queso and an order of Empanadas. The arepas are a round bread made of corn flour, covered with a mozzarella cheese. It went along very well topped with their fresh house salsa.
The empanadas, although small, had big flavor. I've had empanadas many places and these were definitely some of the best I've had----packed with meat and other goodies and fried to a beautiful color.
Again, I could not resist adding a little of the salsa to some of the bites. The salsa reminds me of a combination of a pico de gallo and a chimichurri sauce with the best qualities of both. It was a delicious beginning.
Since I was having Columbian food, I wanted a Colombian beverage. I got a can of Colombiana, which turned out to be a delicious strawberry soda. They also have a nice selection of Colombian juices as well as-----you guessed it----coffee.
There were so many items on the menu that it was hard to decide what to get. We finally settled on the Catfish in Coconut Sauce and the Bandeja Paisa, the Country Dinner. The Country dinner looked like a sampler of the country's food. It contains beans, white rice, fried sweet plantains, an arepa, avocado and plenty of meat. The meat included a large thin beef steak, some nice chorizo and pork cracklings. It also comes with a fried egg on top, although I opted not to get that—eggs are not my thing! Instead, they were nice enough to substitute some of the fried green plantains for me. A quick note about that and the waitstaff-------not only were they willing to accommodate my substitution, but they were extremely friendly and very helpful in describing the different dishes. It made for a very pleasant dining experience overall.
Across from us sat three people who I assumed were native Colombians. When they started bringing out their orders everything looked so delicious I had to resist the urge to go join them. They had some interesting items that I did inquire about with my waitress. I hadn't even received my main dish yet, and I was already planning what to get the next time I visited!
Soon enough, though, our dishes arrived. The catfish was served with the white rice, some of the fried green plantains and a salad. When I tasted the catfish it had a subtle, sweet taste, the sauce not overpowering the fish but accenting it. It contained thinly sliced sweet red peppers an onions, adding a nice touch to the sauce. The fried green plantains were huge, a pancake-sized plantain encased in a thin, light batter. They added a delightful savory accompaniment to the meal.
When the waitress put my platter down in front of me, I knew I had my work cut out for me. It was a lot of food!
I first tasted the Colombian beans, a preparation with dark red beans, some pork and a sauce with the consistency of baked beans but not the sweetness. Next I turned to the chorizo, one of my favorite types of sausage. It was much more similar to a fine Spanish chourico than to the Mexican chorizo, with firm texture and subtle spicing.
Since I didn't get the egg, they added instead the same fried green plantain that was served with the fish. Plantains are big in that part of the world and I wish we had more access to them here, since they go so well as a starchy side dish. Then it was on to the steak, a large milanesa-thin piece that was nice and tender. Finally, I was ready for the thing that had drawn me to the plate in the first place. The chicharon was beautiful piece of pork belly, scored and then fried so it assumed a curve. It had crispiness and richness, with just the right amount of fat to add to the flavor.
The fried sweet plantains that accompanied the meal were delicious. With the rice and a half of a fresh avocado, it was a feast. Rounding out the meal was an arepa, the same corn bread that had started the meal. This one, however did not have the cheese on it. Instead, I was informed that in Colombia they serve it with butter. I opted instead to use it to sop up the delicious sauce that the beans left.
Finally, we split a rice pudding for dessert. The arroz con leche is a traditional Colombian dessert and they served a very nice rendition of it. It had been a very fine meal indeed, bringing back memories of my time in Cartegena.
With the check (which was very reasonable---the Country Dinner and the catfish were both only $10.75) came two pieces of Colombian candy. It was a nice touch at the end.
Afterwards, I had a nice chat with Julio, one of the owners of Colombian Cuisine. He told me that he plans to start introducing regional specials to the menu. I think it's great, since as with many countries, the food can vary tremendously from region to region. Between the extensive menu, the daily specials and the upcoming regional specials, I'm sure I won't run out of things to try at Colombian Cuisine. They are a welcome addition to the OC food scene.
Colombian Cuisine at Mitze's Kountry Kitchen
25381 Alicia Parkway #C
Laguna Hills, CA 92653