The name Paisa derives from the Spanish word paisano (one from the same country). The Paisas are a people who inhabit the region over northwest Colombia in the Andes. In the midst of this mountainous area, the cuisine is highly influenced by an abundance of beans, rice, corn, pork, beef, tropical fruits, potatoes and vegetables.
Colombian food is characterized by the blending of European cuisine with aspects of African and Spanish populations. Bandeja paisa, (Spanish for “Paisa Platter“) is a traditional Colombian dish that is very popular, especially in the Paisa Region. It is generally composed of one meat, carne asada (grilled steak), carne molida (finely ground grilled steak), chicharrón (fried pork rind), or filete de pescado (fillet of fish) and, rice, red beans, yucca, sweet fried plantains, a fried egg, a small white corn arepa, and sometimes chorizo (sausage).
I have to say that at first, I was a bit apprehensive about going to a Latin American restaurant equipped with only an elementary grasp of the language, culture and its cuisine. The good part was that I had no preconceptions either! My overwhelming desire to find great local food keeps me out of deep pocketed chain restaurants that sadly vie for the very real estate that privately owned establishments once dominated.
My concerns were quickly allayed. The menu was very well-organized in both Spanish and English. We were greeted warmly and sat quickly. Sandra (our server) was extremely helpful, attentive and patient. Recommendations from the staff included the Colombian Platter (i.e. bandeja paisa). Which included a choice of meat (grilled: beef, pork, sirloin steak or chicken breast – stewed: roast beef, cow tongue, pan-fried: flank steak, or rotisserie chicken) rice, red beans, fried bacon, round maize bread, sweet fried bananas and salad ($12.00).
I’m sure Scott will get into greater detail about the specifics of what we ordered, but let me say that El Paisa and the Zuleta family should be proud of their culinary contributions to the community by offering us such an authentic, welcoming and affordable dining experience.
Wow! What a find, Colombian food. I know absolutely nothing about it except how to use a fork, knife and delicately guide it to my palate! After one trip to El Paisa, I feel like I have taken the prerequisite to Colombian Epicurean Delights 101.
Let’s get right to the food. Shortly after arriving, a nice fellow showed up to make sure our trip to El Paisa was fruitful. Caesar was his name. With his guidance, our table soon looked like this.
Let’s talk about this interesting side dish…
The most intriguing item I found on this dish is the fried bacon. This reminds me of the time I was in Copenhagen. I was searching for the city’s “dish”- that universally accepted dish/delicacy of the Danish people. Aside from herring every-which-way-you-want-it, if I remember correctly, a dish of “stegt flaesk” was the recommendation. I have to tell you, when I was in one of Copenhagen’s most popular restaurants and I had just finished my “herring with 3 different marinades” appetizer, the main course of stegt flaesk showed up. I almost broke out laughing in the middle of the dining room. It appeared to me that the dish of Copenhagen was nothing more than thick cut bacon fresh out of the fryolator! Getting back to El Paisa’s presentation of the bacon variant. I wish I could call Scotty on the Enterprise and tell him to beam El Paisa’s fried bacon (chicharrón) over to Copenhagen’s culture council. I love the way this bacon is presented. It almost resembles a “rack” of bacon if there was ever such a thing. This was fascinating. We all know bacon is a guilty pleasure. (If my Rabbi ever finds this post and then finds out I’m a certified BBQ Judge, I will be playing this tune!). We know what a bad rap it has with respect to our circulatory system and our caloric intake. So what do I do when faced with potential life and death eating situations? I justify it. And this is what I kept telling myself after every pluck of bacon morsel off the rack well into the next 72 hours after the actual meal. “Well…I am only tearing off the “meat” of the bacon, leaving most of the fat and the rind behind.” Even I know when I’m bullshitting the bullshitter! Nonetheless, grab this wondrous piece of guilty pleasure – embrace and savor it.
For the rest of the dishes…I could go on and on, but for the chicken and steak dish… just order it. The sautéed onions were perfect on these dishes – just enough, extremely tasty and not overpowering. You put a char coating on anything (like in the picture) and I’m drawn to it like a bear is to honey. Close your eyes when your fork yields a portion to your palate. Savor the Columbian spice profile that makes up these sumptuous dishes. The fish dish was very good also – not overwhelmed by spices – delicate, flakey and alive with flavor.
The grand finale:
All I’m going to say is this….Tres Leches Cake! Again, simply fascinating! I could launch into a diatribe about this delicacy but I am already late with this review and David is going to kick my #*%! If I don’t get this review in before the next scheduled Fork in the Rhode meal – which just so happens to be in 89 minutes! I will however leave you with this recent observation:
Today is Saturday morning. Just over 5 days, 18 hours and 4 minutes since I ate this dessert at El Paisa. I was rummaging through the fridge late last night for just a tasting of something sweet. Low and behold I happened to stumble upon a white Styrofoam container. You guessed it –Tres Leches Cake! I had bought a slice for my wife after we finished the meal. As usual this was sitting in the fridge about to be thrown out for rigor mortis… or so I thought. With fear of tasting Tres Leches Gone Bad, I preceded to close my eyes and slowly put a forkful in my mouth. I kept thinking…”5 days old in an unprotected, loose-fitting, take-out container.”
It was as if I had brought the cake home not 5 days ago but 5 minutes ago. How they infuse the milk in that cake and how it retains it along with the moisture is a mystery that I may never unlock!
El Paisa Resaurant. (401) 726-8864. Central Falls 598 Dexter St Central Falls, RI 02863