Over the years, I have linguistically stumbled my way through restaurants in Paris, Rome, Florence, Copenhagen and Olathe (where a freckled waiter once asked me if I wanted some "grated parmy-zan" over my "la-zagg-neya" I had no idea what he was talking about), but I felt somewhat more confident at the charming new Rincon Colombiano Restaurante. Still, a bit of conversational Spanish would have come in handy on my first visit to the place.
At Rincon Colombiano, the menu is in Inglés, but I felt a frustrating failure to communicate with the handsome waiter Aldemar. The Colombian-born Aldemar has been in Kansas for less than a year, and his command of English is better than my rudimentary grasp of Spanish. Still, there were unexpected glitches along the way. Most were pretty comical, and nearly all involved Aldemar saying no when he meant yes I have the reverse problem, but that's another story or saying no when he just didn't understand the question.
Before I even set foot in the tiny restaurant, I called ahead to make sure that the place accepted credit cards. The answer was perfectly lucid: No. So I paid for that night's meal with cash. It was only on my second visit that I spied an electronic credit-card machine mounted on a wall near the kitchen, where the restaurant's chef and owner, Juan Carlos Lambrana, was a one-man show.
"You take credit cards now, yes?" I asked. Aldemar shook his head. Another customer explained it for me: "What he means is, this place doesn't take Discover or American Express."
Ah, everything is illuminated! What I mean is, my experience with Colombian food is, as they might say in Bogota, pequeñito smaller even than my knowledge of Colombia, which is limited to the occasional news report about terrorism, cocaine and those wild and crazy guys in the old Medellin cartel. But Rincon Colombiano (rincón translates as corner) is a good place for a crash course in Colombian culture, not only through the cuisine but also via the television set perched atop the big stainless-steel refrigerator in the dining room. It's set to either Latin American news programs with exceptionally attractive reporters and news anchors or Spanish soap operas, with exceptionally attractive actors who are either yelling or crying.
On my first visit to the storefront café, I was joined by my friends Bob and Carol Ann. We took a table (there are only 11 in the place) near the TV so Bob could watch the soap opera while we ate. "I don't understand a word they're saying," he said. "But I want to see why this actor can't stop weeping."
Carol Ann is bored by soap operas, so she never looked up from the menu, which was far more fascinating to her. "Lots of meat," she noted. "Plantains, soups and chicken breats."
Breasts, I corrected her. "Well it says breats on the menu," she snapped. And so it did. The menu also lists the five different soups offered every day, including that night's intriguingly named "meet balls soup." We didn't meet it or eat it, alas, because when I asked Aldemar about the sopa del día, he just shook his head. What he meant was ... oh, never mind.