Note: From James Bone, the editor of www.cartagenainfo.net and www.medellininfo.com. Living in both Cartagena and Medellin I found the following article complimentary to both of my uniquely different and great adopted cities. Cartagena is all about history, romance, a mixture of cultures, and the Caribbean Sea, while the article describes Antioquia and Medellin as Colombia's best example of modern, aggressive and innovative business people. In Miami the Colombian's are second in population behind the Cubans! Hope you enjoy this Miami Herald article on Casual Dining.
By ENRIQUE FERNANDEZ
At the very popular San Pocho on Calle Ocho, the bandeja is missing an also typical slice of avocado, even if the green fruit is in season and available in a salad. But that's nitpicking given the wealth of food and how tasty it all is -- the palomilla-like carne asada is full of rich flavor and the red beans rock.
A morcilla makes a nice appetizer, similar to its Spanish and Argentine cousins. A good sobrebarriga -- flank steak cooked until it shreds easily -- is available a la plancha (grilled) or a la criolla (with sauce). The Colombian version of Cuban vaca frita and ropa vieja, it comes with a boiled potato topped with an excellent cheese sauce.
San Pocho caters to the Cuban-American office lunch crowd. That means its clientele is always asking what the dishes are, so the help is used to cross-cultural explanations (delivered in Spanish; there's little English spoken here).
Many entrees come with two starches, confirming the story (Colombia being a land of storytellers) one hears about paisa he-men: If you serve one a salad, he'll beat you up for questioning his manhood.
• San Pocho, 901 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-854-5954; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; entrees $5.50-$8.95.
No such gastronomic machismo at the trendier Al Carbón, where most courses are accompanied by mesclun. At first sight, Al Carbón, with its big smoky grill and range of meat offerings, seems like an Argentine parrilla. It's actually a Colombian eatery that downplays its nationality, serving Argentine churrascos, American burgers and Mexican guacamole. But a grilled morcilla is totally Colombian and one of the tastiest blood sausages in town.
Hamburgers come in a fat homemade bun. Steaks are juicy. There is no region closely associated with this restaurant, but perhaps a demographic: youth. Al Carbón would not be out of place in a hip Bogotá neighborhood.
A recent entry in the Coral Way makeover, this grill is the perfect spot for a nice, simple meal (they serve beer and wine) in a tasteful, understated setting.
• Al Carbón, 2280 SW 22nd St., Miami; 305-856-3366. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays, 6-11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 6 p.m.-midnight Thursday-Friday, 12:30 p.m.-midnight Saturday-Sunday; entrees $7.95-$9.99.
''The arepa de huevo [or arepa 'e huevo, as it's pronounced] is absolutely fantastic, prehistoric,'' Gabriel García Márquez once said, sounding like, well, García Márquez. ``You bite into this corn cake and inside, miraculously, there's a fried egg!''
He said that in Cartagena, the beautiful colonial city on Colombia's Caribbean coast where he has a home. Narcobollo in Doral is an offshoot of a Cartagena restaurant, and it does serve arepa 'e huevo -- that's how it's spelled on the menu. The cafeteria's suggestive name (suggestive to Colombians; scandalous to Cubans), springs from a true-life incident worthy of a García Márquez story.
The owners had moved their restaurant, unknowingly, into a Cartagena house previously owned by drug lords, and when drug cops raided it, not knowing it had new occupants, they found it full of bollos (the word means ''rolls,'' and to Colombians they're tamale-like envueltos or wraps of Amerindian descent) instead of dope. From then on, true to the fierce oral traditions of the Caribbean coast that feed García Márquez's narratives, it was known as Narcobollo.
A bollo limpio is made of white corn, bollo de mazorca from yellow corn; there's also bollo de yuca and bollo de coco (with coconut and anise). They're all eaten with cheese, chicharrón (fried pork rind) or butifarra (sausage).
Other bollo-like items include hayacas (also popular in Venezuela) and pasteles (also popular in Puerto Rico). And you can get a side of suero, a yogurt-like cream, that can be poured on any of the dishes.
Narcobollo serves breakfast, which can be eggs or any of the above treats, as well as a plate of beans. And for main courses, the specialty of the house is carne en posta, a pot roast in a sweet gravy. It can be accompanied by arroz con coco, one of the great side dishes of the Caribbean.
No beer or wine, but plenty of fresh juices made from berries, passion fruit and the sour-sweet lulo. None is known to have narcotic properties, although, to end with García Márquez, on the occasion of his ode to the arepa 'e huevo, he declined the offer of a passion-fruit juice ``because it will eroticize me.''
• Narcobollo, 2557 NW 79th Ave., Doral; 305-597-7722; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday-Sunday; entrees $6.41-$12