Until I dined at Noches de Colombia with Mr. Hot, I thought there was no such thing as too many chicaronnes (pork cracklings). Noches de Colombia (with other locations in Englewood, Paterson, Clifton) opened it's doors in Montclair about three months ago. Essentially a BYOB Colombian diner, Noches serves three meals a day, seven days a week, and fits all the diner specs: large, laminated menu with thumbnail photos, enormous portions, reasonable prices, a bakery section, acceptable fare, and service that could never be criticized as overly precious.
So, what do you get at a Colombian diner? The Picadita Noches ($12.95), a jam-packed platter - shareable for three or maybe four - piled with chorizo, tostones, sliced steak, and chicaronnes. The standout was the chorizo, a beautifully spiced and distinctive pork sausage. The chicharrones were a bit too leathery (a common plague), but the steak was more tender and moderately flavorful.
The beef and potato empanadas were a disappointment. The pastry's texture was lackluster- not flaky and crispy, hot - and the filling was more potato than beef, and tasted just that way. A squeeze of lime brightened things and a dip in the aji - which is a fabulous condiment that proved handy throughout the meal - kicked it up a necessary notch.
The entrees arrived about five minutes after the appetizers - which we were still working on. The waitress slid another table over and suddenly Mr. Hot and I had to ourselves a table for four with enough food for six!
Both traditional Colombian entrees - the frijolada Colombiana and the bandeja paisa kept with the theme and were more than enough to fill even the most hungry!
With the bandeja paisa ($12.95) I opted for the more traditional ground beef rather than steak. The plate was rimmed by another crescent of chicarrones that looked like a giant spine, I wasn't sure if it belonged on the plate or in a chiropractor's office. I mixed it all up - broke the yolk, poured the beans on, and found that once again, salt was conspicuously absent. I deferred to the aji, again, to pick up the slack.
The frijolada ($12.50), a hefty a comfort food, was more flavorful than the bandeja paisa, largely due to the Colombian sausage, but it was still wanting for salt, and benefited from a dash of aji to turn up the flavor quotient.
Noches de Colombia certainly offers a great value, family friendly atmosphere, and a large screen for group viewing. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the vibrant interior and busy dining room. Will I be rushing back? Maybe for breakfast - the coffee was excellent. Stay tuned.
Noches de Colombia
19 Elm Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
*take out available