Colombia Calling


Colombian Stamp

From NW Africa last week to NW South America this week.  For the food of Colombia I visited Los Paisas Restaurant in Charlotte.  It’s tucked away in the corner of a shopping center just north of Pineville.  The parking lot was busy but the restaurant wasn’t bad and I got seated immediately.  The restaurant has a bar and a few tables in the bar area where I was seated.  They had soccer games going on a couple of big screen TVs as well as some Latin music playing in the background.  The staff hung around the bar area chatting and prepping when they weren’t helping customers.  It was a very relaxed atmosphere.

It only took a minute with the menu to pick out my selection since it was named Bandeja Tipica Colombiana.  I didn’t know what Bandeja was but I could figure out Tipica Colombiana and the waiter confirmed the menu suggestion that it was a “house favorite”.  I was originally going to have just water but they have an interesting array of juices you can get made from water or milk.  I went with mamey with milk since I’d never heard of a mamey before.  Since it was my first trip to Los Paisas the waiter brought a complimentary empanada as an appetizer.


This was smaller that most empanadas that I’d had before but it was tasty, especially with the salsa verde he brought.  Speaking of the salsa verde that stuff was pretty good and to paraphrase that old lady from the Frank’s Red Hot commercial, I tried that $@*T on everything.  When they brought out the Bandeja Tipica Colombiana I was pretty impressed with the volume of food.  I thought it was going to be a typical menu picture that maximized the appearance and amount of food but if anything the picture undersells it.

There was steak, sausage, crackling pork, an egg, avocado, plantain, beans, rice and an arepa all piled on that plate.  Two people could have shared that an walked away happy.  As it was I managed to do some major damage but had to leave some rice, beans and pork behind to leave bloated and happy.

The grilled steak was a thin cut and didn’t have much seasoning at all but not bland in any way.  The sausage was good but I honestly expected it to be spicy and it was not.  In fact nothing was spicy with heat and the waiter mentioned it wouldn’t be and he could bring some hot sauce if needed.  As mentioned earlier I did try the salsa on everything.  The plantain was a sweet variety as opposed to some of the simply starchy varieties.  Beans, rice and eggs were nothing special but did their job as competent fillers.  The crackling pork was just that, cooked to crackling on the top and less so closer to the skin.  Also not much seasoning so you got the true taste of the fried pork meat.  My first thought was it was a bit bland but it paired nicely with the arepa.  The arepa is a thick corn tortilla and the consistency reminded me of the cornmeal dumplings my Grandfather used to make.  By itself it was also kind of meh but it went with everything and I could see why it is their bread substitute and why there are so many different recipes with it if you look for them.  I wasn’t sure what the avocado was really supposed to go with so I just scooped it out of the skin and ate a little bit with everything and it worked.

The mamey milk juice was pretty good too.  It was a little sweet and the flavor reminded me of a mild strawberry more than anything else.

I mentioned my Grandfather earlier and I couldn’t help but think of him as I ate.  This meal, aside from the avocado and plantain, felt like something he would have thoroughly enjoyed.  Yes I’m sure that Southern American would have like this South American plate.

Check out the arepa recipe and other tidbits on the Tell Me More page.  Below is the restaurant website and you should use it to get the address and check them out.

Los Paisas Restaurant



Fezzes Are Cool



This week I took the culinary passport from Asia to North Africa and went to Ajbani Moroccan Cuisine.  Although it’s half a world away from China it’s literally across the street from the dim sum restaurant from two posts back.  They don’t serve lunch and they open at 4:00 so I had a midday snack and got there as they were opening so I’d miss any crowds.

This is primarily a take out joint with a couple of tables on the sidewalk and three more inside the door.  The bulk of the place is taken up by the open kitchen and you can see everything as they prepare it.  You order at the counter and if you are dining in they’ll bring it to your table.  While she finished setting up I checked out the menu and honestly I didn’t see much I wouldn’t like to try.  In the end I settled on a couple of appetizers; the kefta brouchettes and the hummus and falafel platter.







As I mentioned they are primarily a take out place and the food is delivered to you that way even if you are dining in.  Turns out that’s ok because you don’t need to ask for a box for the leftovers.  My first impression was these were small portions for the price but once I started in I revised that opinion.  The kefta brouchettes are spiced ground beef and lamb meatball kebabs and came with a harissa yogurt sauce.  These meatballs were dense and filling and had a pretty good taste as is but the harissa yogurt sauce pushed them up a couple of notches.  It is a spicy sauce with pepper, garlic, cumin and coriander but the yogurt kept the spiciness in check so it was a controlled burn.  The falafels were bit different than others I’ve had.  The basic taste was the same but they were missing something for me.  The consistency was crunchy on the outside and really soft inside and at first I thought they may have been cooked on too high a heat setting but they were steaming hot in the center too.  They were good just different.  The hummus came topped with homemade tomato and pepper dip that was very tasty.  The hummus was thicker and more coarse than most of what you find in the grocery stores aisles.  It wasn’t advertised as made on site but it definitely had the consistency of homemade and it was good.  The pita is in the little bag and honestly I thought “that’s all” but had to revise my opinion again once I opened the bag.  The pita would have been better warmed but it was just sliced up pita in a bag, which honestly is logical since they specialize in takeout and it wouldn’t be warm by the time most people got it home.  I brought about half the hummus and falafel platter home and grabbed these little babies on the way out.

20160423_170631These, my friends, are tahini truffles.  The outside is puffed black rice that has a massive crunch factor and the inside is tahini and chocolate ganache together in a sweet and salty mixture that is quite nice.  They are about the size of ping pong balls and one will do you for a while.

There are some other dishes on the menu I want to try on another visit like the Berber chicken and the olive and orange salad with hazelnuts and a dressing of orange juice and spices.

Another good find as far as I’m concerned and they seem authentic.  In fact a trio came in while I was eating and were discussing the dishes with the lady behind the counter and were informed some of the food was prepared by a Berber lady.  Also one of the owners came in while I was there.  He was Moroccan but to my disappointment not wearing a fez.  He did stop at my table and ask if everything was ok and then when I was leaving he asked what I had and how I liked it.  He thanked me for coming in and made sure to ask me back.  Very friendly place and did I mention the truffles.

The link to their website is below and don’t forget to check out the Tell Me More page for more on Morocco.



Khan I Get a Bowl


Mongolia visa, entry and exit stamps, 2011

I’ll start with an apology for the title but I couldn’t help myself.  Obviously I took the culinary passport north of China to Mongolia this week.  To represent the Mongols’ food I dropped in at the Genghis Grill for Mongolian BBQ.  The restaurant is in a nice area in a little strip center that was unbelievably popular today.  I wound up having to park in another parking lot and walk a bit to get to the Genghis Grill.  That was ok though as I was in third place in a Fitbit challenge so I needed the steps anyway.

I was greeted at the front by a polite fellow who asked if I’d been there before and since I hadn’t he took me to my seat, got my drink order and then came back and walked me through their process.  You choose your bowl size first from small, regular or large.  The regular was actually wider than the large but more shallow and I’m not sure it’s not the better deal based on the model.  Once I had my large bowl he walked me up to their Fresh Bar where there were essentially 4 stations; meat, spices, vegetables, and sauces.  The deal is you can pile as much in the bowl as you can without leaving a trail behind you.  I think the regular size bowl with a wider, albeit more shallow, profile might allow for a higher pile if you are feeling like a challenge has been issued.  As you can see from the pictures below there were a lot of options at each station and if you want to see what they all were check out the website via the link at the bottom.








I decided not to make it a challenge to see how much meat or how high it could be piled but instead went with some Mongolian chili shaved beef and Korean pork in moderate amounts for protein.  From the spice station I had some yellow curry, garlic & ginger.  The vegetables all looked fresh and I piled up a sampling from well over half the options.  From the sauces I only grabbed the Mongolian BBQ sauce and the Dragon sauce which was a little sweet with a little heat.  From here I took it to the grill where I got to pick three “sides” with the large bowl.  Choices were steamed rice, brown rice, fried rice, udon noodles, cabbage, and tortillas.  I went with brown rice, cabbage & udon noodles and a couple of eggs thrown in because why not.  You can see the giant grill below and the sticks they use to stir it around with.  Another place I’ve been had giant metal blades which I personally think were cooler but this guy got the job done.






The picture doesn’t make it clear how much food that was.  I ate all I wanted and still brought a box home.  I’m glad I didn’t overdo any of the spices or sauces since it is mixed all together.  The flavors all melded together nicely and I didn’t add anything else once they brought it to the table.  If you like to be inventive and try different combinations this is your kind of place.  You could come every week for a year and have a different recipe each time.  One more word about the staff I interacted with while I was there.  They were all very polite, smiled and were helpful and when they had a little rush the general manager jumped in and helped at the grill until the rush was over.  Overall thumbs up from me.

Here is the link to the corporate website.  Genghis Grill

Also don’t forget to check out Tell Me More to check out the Mongolian throat singing video.


Dim Sum – Yum!



One cool thing this week was I got to use the passport stamp from my own passport for China.

There are many options for Chinese cuisine and it can be a difficult decision which way to go but I knew from the start I wanted to visit a dim sum restaurant.  For those who don’t know dim sum is a Cantonese style of food cooked in small bites or portions often served in small steam baskets.  It is perfect for trying a lot of different dishes.  Bringing friends means you can try even more items without overstuffing, and well, all meals are just better with friends.  So I called in reinforcements from Columbia; the McGehees, Andy, Melanie & Ian plus Ms. Christy Goodman.

They first introduced me to the Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant in Charlotte and it has never failed us.  The place isn’t fancy by any stretch but it is clean and bright.  You can order from a menu if you want but the main attraction for us is the dim sum that comes around on carts of steamers or plates.  They push it up to your table and you pick out what you like or think is interesting.  We wound with several types of dumplings, buns, crepes, feet, custards.  That’s right I said feet.  Tried my first and probably last chicken feet on this trip.  As you can see in the photo (3rd one down) they don’t look bad and honestly they aren’t.

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The chicken feet had a nice coating that was flavorful but the foot itself was mostly skin and gelatinous goo that was sort of chicken flavored and overall very bony.  They weren’t bad but my overall impression was more of a “why bother” with all the other delicious options available.  So while I wouldn’t balk at eating them again, I’m not going to add them to my favorite things to eat column either.

The rice noodle shrimp things were popular at the table and the shiu mai, leek, pork and shrimp dumplings all got gobbled up.  The steamed bbq buns were tasty but I forgot they had paper on the bottom so I got a little extra fiber in one bite.  We had some shrimp balls and shrimp toast, not to mention the crabmeat wrapped in bacon (because what isn’t better wrapped in bacon), some shrimp, leek and egg pancakes and stuffed eggplant.  For desert we had a little egg custard, not too sweet but just sweet enough to qualify as desert.

As I said this restaurant has always delivered a good meal and a good time spent with friends.  If you’ve never had dim sum I encourage you to find a place that serves it, grab some friends and go enjoy.  Just a tip it might be something on a weekend menu for some Chinese restaurants that may serve more “traditional” fare during the week.

Don’t forget to check out Tell Me More for a video featuring double erhu’s and a list of dim sum recipes.


Vive le Cafe


This week was a bit of a late lunch, early dinner situation so it seemed like a jaunt to the café would be just the thing.  That being the case France seemed the way to go and Amelie’s French Bakery & Café the place to be.  We have one in Rock Hill that I have been to several times for breakfast and it is fantastic but this time I thought I’d visit the flagship location in NoDa.  For those who “ain’t from ’round here” NoDa is an area of Charlotte in and around North Davidson street. Kind of cool, a little artsy.

Anyway, back to Amelie’s.  It’s in what looks like an old industrial building converted to a boutique strip mall and anchors one end.  It’s a good sized place with some outdoor seating I was hoping to take advantage of on such a beautiful day.  Alas mine was not an original idea and the tables were full of people enjoying a beverage and / or snack.  When you step inside you are greeted by a hodge podge of decorations that look like someone took one piece of something from every café ever and collected it in this spot.  The walls are striped light blue and lighter blue and there are both faux chalkboards with permanent menu items and real chalkboards with “du jour” items scrawled on them.  Depending on the line the next thing you notice is the pastry case as pictured below from my point in line.  You place your order and if it is not something from the case they bring it to your table.  I decided to try their seasonal bouchée as an appetizer, and a half sandwich and side.

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For the bouchée, which is the pastry shell below with a savory filling, I went with the bacon asparagus.  The sandwich I opted for was the croque monsieur with a fruit salad side.  The soups were not to my liking and they were out of the red potatoes with haricourts vert (green beans).  It all looked good and tasted good.

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That bouchée was flakiest thing since (I was going to insert a blonde joke but that just doesn’t seem cool) the baklava I had a while back.  The bacon and asparagus were lightly applied and added good flavor without being overwhelming.  The croque monsier for those who have never had one is basically a fancy ham and cheese sandwich but in a good way not a pinky extended way.  This one was made on a croissant with a Dijon mustard spread, ham and cheese and a slice of gruyere toasted on top.  Very tasty.  The fruit salad was essentially a selection of fruit chunks with a dressing of what I believe was yogurt and poppy seeds.  The tang nicely offset the sweet from the fruit.  I don’t know what the calorie count was but it wasn’t a very heavy meal and it was quite delicious.  I think it would have tasted better if I had been enjoying it at an outdoor table but c’est la vie.

I did manage to console myself by stopping by the pastry case and picking up this little item for a snack later.


Overall Amelie’s was great and that goes for both locations I’ve visited.  The pastries were flaky, the coffee smelled good and the place has a relaxed atmosphere and eclectic décor that make it a nice, if potentially fattening, place to spend some time.

Here’s a link to their website and do forget to check out Tell Me More for some good café music and other assorted bonus content on France.

Amelie’s French Bakery

A little foreshadowing, next week is China and dim sum.