Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Orinoco - Venezuelan with Mis Amigos

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Arepas made from scratch by my friend and Venezuelan native Carla. Arepas are grilled corn pocket sandwiches (almost like an incredible oversized English muffin). The bread is baked in the oven, grilled, sliced open and stuffed with beef, cheese or other savory fillings.

While I was able to enjoy them once more at a shoebox-sized Venezuelan spot in New York's East Village called Flor's Kitchen, I haven't had them since. You couldn't find them at any restaurant in Boston. Until now.

Orinoco recently opened in Boston's South End and the place is already packed every night. I have not been to Venezuela but according to my friend Carla, this place is very authentic, in both its d├ęcor and cuisine. It is this authenticity and the reasonable prices (nothing over $14 on the menu) that I believe draws the crowds.

The restaurant has a warm, rustic feel with distressed tin ceilings, vintage photos on the wall, and old somewhat rickety chairs (a guy actually broke his chair that night which his friends will never let him live down I'm sure). To spice things up, on the wall are colorful masks worn during Venezuela's festival, Los Diablos de Yare, which is held in the town of Yare. Packages of Venezuelan chocolate and flour are also displayed on shelves on the wall which makes the place feel homey.

After waiting about an hour for the table (Orinoco only seats about 20 people) and watching countless delicious-looking plates come out of the open kitchen, we were finally seated. I left the ordering up to Carla since she would obviously know what's best. Her boyfriend Eugene knew exactly what he wanted. She has taught him well. Unfortunately a couple of the things she wanted to order were not available that night for some reason. But what we ended up with suited me just fine.

We started with the Empanadas Verde (pictured at top), delicious turnovers made with plaintain dough and filled with mushrooms, piquillo (sweet, slighly piquant red pepper), manchego cheese and salsa verde. It was accompanied with a nice, light salad. These empanadas were different than others I have tried which I believe were Spanish in origin and used more of a flaky pie dough. The plantain dough gives these empanadas a flavor reminiscent of a Mexican tamale. It was a pleasant surprise.

Another appetizer on the table was the Tostones, crispy green plantain mini-cakes with mojo sauce. Unlike other fried plantains I've had which are usually sliced horizontally, these were prepared as little discs, easy for dipping in the flavorful mojo sauce which is typically a combination of olive oil, garlic, paprika or chile powder, cumin and lemon.

Of course we had to order an Arepa. But which one? They offer 7 different kinds. Carla suggested the Arepa Mechada which is stuffed with Venuzuelan-style stewed shredded beef. So good. The meat falls apart as any slow-cooked beef should. Look forward to going back and trying some others.

Asado Negro was the entree of choice, featuring panela and onion slow-cooked beef and sauce with rice and sweet plantains. Panela is a densely packed sweetener similar to brown sugar. Carla said that when growing up, she would come home to this dish after school. Lucky chica.

For dessert, we felt we had to try the traditional Arroz con leche, Venezuelan-style rice pudding. Frankly, it was nothing to write home about. I'm picky about my rice pudding. Carla and I agreed that each of us can make a better version. And in terms of restaurants, Atasca wins for best rice pudding hands down. The Torta Fluida (molten chocolate cake made with Venezuelan chocolate) sounded really good. Maybe next time we'll give that a try.

If you haven't been introduced to Arepas and the comfort food of Venezuela, I recommend you try Orinoco. But get there early or wear comfortable shoes and settle in for the wait.

477 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, MA, 617.369.7075


Blogger xoxobono said...

We had such a great time and I'm glad you enjoyed the food! For me (the Venezuelan girl) there is nothing better than eating food almost as good as my moms, and this place really comes close. Too bad you can't have seconds :)

1:32 PM  
Anonymous madeira mama said...

Your dinner at Orinoco's sounds so good! You've covered Portuguese and Venezuelan restaurants...what's next?

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm born and raised in Venezuela and I have to tell you that the "empanada verde" is not authentic. I almost went there last year when I spent a week in Boston and I'm glad I didn't.

11:24 PM  

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