Do you remember that scene from the movie "Ratatouille" when the food critic, Antono Ego, takes his first bite of of the delicious veggie dish? Tears fill his eyes and he is immediately transported back to his care-free, whimsical childhood days. One delectable, comforting, outrageously sublime bite is all it takes to take to bring innocence back to the jaded. I had that experience yesterday after taking one warm, sensational bite of a PANDEQUESO from the bakery section of La Sorpresa, in Norwalk. This undecorated, bare, and ordinary looking pastry was so surprisingly scrumptious, tears literally streamed down my face. Truly. (And yes, I probably DO need medication, but still…) And this wasn’t the only surprise at La Sorpresa, located at 61 Cedar Street in Norwalk. This Colombian restaurant, owned and run by Ivan Dario Gomez, serves typical cuisine from the region, but the place itself is anything but ordinary.
The outside of the building is charming, complete with faux tour bus on the roof which seems to be transporting hungry guests to the restaurant. Inside, the décor is simple (to say the least) yet festive, with miniature doll houses, posters of Colombian super-stars, and running video of what looks like the Columbian version of “So You Think You Can Dance.” This is classic KITSCH (and I don’t mean Taylor!)
The food at La Sorpesa is just as you might expect; they serve the standard Colombian fare made with good quality chicken, meat, and fish with flavorful sauces and plenty of beans and rice. The PLANTAINS are delicious and cooked to perfection, not too sweet. The AREPAS, traditional South American corn cakes, are tasty and can be filled with cheese, chicken, shrimp, steak, or a combination of all of the above. We ordered a gigantic CHICKEN TAMALE which came to the table piping hot, wrapped in the classic corn husks and bubbling with chunks of chicken, peas, carrots, and potato, delicately surrounded by a buttery roux. This was basically chicken-pot-pie without the “pie” and is what I would certainly call “comfort” food. There are plenty of specialties of the house as well as daily soups specials like hearty lentil or garbanzo with potato, avocado, and a healthy dose of cilantro. This place serves every traditional South American dish you can imagine and the service is beyond friendly. (But be sure to brush up on your Spanish if you can!) There is a standard children’s menu, complete with chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and burgers, but the kids will probably find plenty on the regular menu to satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
But the real “sorpresa” at La Sorpresa is the PANADERIA. This little shop, connected to the restaurant by a tiny bar, seems to be busy 24/7. Here, they sell take - out versions of the restaurant fare by the piece or in bulk. They also sell all kinds of Colombian dried goods, kitchen utensils, lottery tickets, and the kind of tchockes that you might find walking through a street market in Bogota. But the REAL jewels in this tiny treasure chest of a store are the baked goods. As i mentioned earlier, the PANDEQUESO (along with its sister PANDEBONO -same flavor, different shape) is like ambrosia for the gods. Just make sure you eat them hot out of the oven or the thrill is gone. (If you take them home to eat, you must reheat - trust me.) The ear-shaped OREJAS are crispy, sweet, and light. Most "delicioso" is the PASTEL DE AREQUIPE. Arequipe is called Dulce de Leche in other South American countries and this bun-like "pastel" is a wonderful mixture of crunchy puff pastry and sweet caramel, made by boiling down milk and sugar to a thick, syrup-like paste. What could be bad? The list goes on and on; there are MERENGUES and PUDDINGS and CHURROS and TORTAS. La Sorpresa has it all- you can chow on AREPAS, indulge in PANDEQUESOS, pick up a coffee grinder, and buy a lottery ticket, all at the same location! One stop shopping at La Sorpresa - this is my kind of place!
La Sopresa 61 Cedar Street, Norwalk 203.838.9809