Aires de Colombia
64 West Post Rd
White Plains, NY
Zio was behind the wheel, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on First Avenue. He was muttering and cursing, though clearly not under his breath. We were on our way to White Plains in the middle of rush hour to a destination chosen by none other than the innocent seeming, though truly sadistic Gerry who has tormented us with restaurants in hard to reach and traffic congested locales such as Sheepshead Bay, Valhalla, Jersey City, and Fort Lee, to name just a few. Was his motive in choosing these hard to reach destinations to exact revenge on those of us who live in the New York City environs and take for granted how easy it is, via public transportation, to experience worldly culinary pleasures in the city as opposed to the suburbanite who, with a few exceptions, is a prisoner to his vehicle and must commute to find food nirvana. We weren’t sure, but as we inched along on First Avenue, the conspiracy theories were percolating rapidly.
Rick had already bowed out of this adventure; a trip from the city to White Plains during rush hour and then back to his money pit in Atlantic Highlands New Jersey, much too stressful on his already commuting-frazzled nerves.
“This better not be like that mother f*****g mariachi place in Yonkers. I couldn’t even eat that s**t,” Zio spat, referring to Gerry’s ill fated Yonkers’ Mexican choice, Plaza Garibaldi.
The venom was flowing from Zio’s rotund frame. It got so bad we seriously considered pulling over and eating at nearby Patsy’s Pizzeria in East Harlem, or, if the traffic continued beyond the entrance to the Bruckner, driving to Hunt’s Point for one of Fratelli’s broccoli rabe “Grandma” pies.
With our intentions now clear, Zio seemed to calm down and once we were able to get onto the Bruckner, the traffic dissipated and we quickly decided to go back to our first option and head on to White Plains. Gerry and Eugene were waiting outside Aires de Colombia on a strip populated by a variety of Latin restaurants.
Looking at the restaurant, I recalled that when I was living in White Plains, the location of Aires de Colombia was near a bar I frequented back when the drinking age was 18 and I was a bit younger called DePalo’s Dugout. At DePalo’s each night there was a half hour where beer was free. My high school friends and I took full advantage of the offer, taking turns going up to the bar until our table was overflowing with pitchers and almost enough beer to get us through the night.
Back when I was filling up on beer instead of rice, beans, and chicharrones, which I was planning to do at Aires de Colombia, there were no Latin restaurants on this stretch of Post Road. And driving into White Plains with its many gleaming glass towers, I noted that there were no Ritz Carlton’s or Trump Towers either in the disco days of my youth.
Gerry had already visited Aires de Colombia and was disappointed to say that the television near our table and above the bar had been removed. When he visited he was entertained by Colombian dancing girls on the screen which, according to Gerry, only enhanced the dining experience. The bartender who also served as our hostess and waitress spoke little English but enough to say that she had two English language menus while the rest were in Spanish. Neither did me any good because it was much too dark where we sat for me to read any language. The bar crowd was amused at our pathetic attempts to converse with our waitress, which, to me, was a good sign. Our group being a silly spectacle for the establishment’s regulars meant that we had hit upon a truly authentic destination, though the inebriated grin directed toward Gerry from one the bar’s patrons had him slightly unnerved.
We began with the aforementioned chicharron, a long, deep fried until practically charred, piece of pork belly, the intense saltiness paired beautifully with the cold Aguila beer I was drinking. The chicharron was accompanied by an arepa, Colombian corn bread topped with a heavy sprinkling of cheese. While waiting for our beef empanadas, I excused myself to visit the restrooms. On the way, I passed the half door opening that led to the kitchen and noticed a woman with a head scarf scurrying between the stove and a table where she was rolling out dough for the empanadas. The sight was more than reassuring and I was confident that Aires de Colombia would not be like “that mother f*****g mariachi place in Yonkers.”
The empanadas that soon arrived at our table were as good as I’ve had anywhere and remarkably, tasted as if they were hand rolled by a Colombian woman in a head scarf. But the “starters” were not light fare and when they were followed by enormous platters of meat; beef with French fried potatoes and onions known as “lomo saltado,” rolled, stuffed pork, steak, more chicharrones, and lengua (tongue) described as our waitress in her struggling English as “sweet tongue” and all of the meats accompanied by rice, beans, tostones, maduras, yucca, aquacate (avocado) and a hard, dry round “arepa” that was the only disappointment of the night, it soon became a struggle to eat. There was, apparently, a bottom to our collective bottomless pits. The one exception to all the meat was a platter of shrimp in a creamy garlic sauce that, though tasty, not quite worthy enough to veer from the meat side of the menu.
The dishes soon were cleared except those in front of Mike from Yonkers who was still picking at the “sweet” tongue. The rest of us were glassy-eyed and dazed by the cholesterol onslaught.
“100 crunches every morning,” Eugene droned, patting his ridiculously flat stomach. “And no more junk for breakfast. Fruit. Granola. Oatmeal. .. ” The arrival of our check spared us from having to listen to Eugene anymore and after tallying it up, the result put us a bit above our $20 food budget. No one complained that we had gone over budget. The hardship of getting to Aires de Colombia was temporarily forgotten in our food-induced stupor. We gathered our things and went outside to listen a bit to the very noticeable silence on the deserted White Plains’ street before getting in our respective vehicles and driving home.