Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Don't Fear the Arepa -- Venezualan Sandwich Shop Delights

118 N. Marion St., Oak Park

What I ate: La Nuestra Arepa; Cazón (minced shark) Empanada; Papelón con Limón (Venezuelan lemonade)

If you search for "Venezuelan Restaurant Chicago" on Google or Yelp, Aripo's Venezuelan Arepa House is the first listing and the only place cited that seems to explicitly offer cuisine from Venezuela.

It is located in Oak Park, which isn't exactly next door to Skokie, but other than perhaps Evanston (which is), likely my favorite Chicago suburb.

So with the opportunity to go to Oak Park on Wednesday, I tied a visit to Aripo's to a matinee of Star Trek Into Darkness at the classic Lake cinema and--after the rains cleared--a delightful stroll, as always, along Forest Ave., a.k.a. mecca for fans of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which I've long been. (I'll post some pictures in the next couple days.)

Aripo's is located along Marion St. just south of Lake St., near several other appealing-looking eateries.

While I likely would have been sufficiently covered by the awning, I chose not to eat outside on a rainy day, but dining al fresco there would seemingly be rather pleasant with warmth and sunshine in abundance.

Although its menu also includes appetizers, empanadas, salads, bowls and three "Venezuelan Specialties," Aripo's mainstay clearly appears to be the Arepa, or perhaps more accurately, sandwiches on such.

Aripo's website describes the Arepa as "Venezuela's every-day bread" made from a "mix or water, cornmeal and salt."

"Once cooked, the Arepa is split open like a pocket and stuffed with a variety of fillings that are as diverse as the Venezuelan culture."

At Aripo's, 18 different arepas are listed, with fillings including roasted pork, shredded chicken, ham, chorizo, eggs and vegetarian options.

I went with arepa selection A8, La Nuestra - The Pabellón Arepa = Shredded beef, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded white cheese. 

On the menu, this item is prominently accompanied by a badge proclaiming it Number One - Everyone's Favorite.

Good enough to entice me, but as I don't like beans, in asking for them to be held I was offered avocado instead.

The end result was truly scrumptious, as I love plantains, the shredded beef was really tasty, the bun (i.e. arepa) was delicious and the avocado was a nice touch.

This would have made a sufficiently filling lunch in itself, perhaps accompanied by a split appetizer had I a companion, but having driven all the way to Oak Park for Venezuelan food, I felt I should venture beyond just the Arepa.

So I ordered an empanada, which I've also enjoyed or noted as part of Argentinean, Costa Rican, Cuban, Peruvian and Jamaican culinary explorations.

Empanada choices included shredded beef, shredded chicken, ground beef, white cheese and more, but I was intrigued by Cazón = Minced Caribbean shark.

For a moment I thought that perhaps I shouldn't eat shark, as I wouldn't want one to eat me, or even to be destroyed for food purposes, but as a non-vegetarian that would seem to entail standing on rather selective principle.

The empanada was perfectly fried and while I cannot describe--as I couldn't truly discern--what shark meat tasted like, the whole thing was really good.

As was the cup of Papelón con Limón, described on the menu as Venezuelan lemonade but actually made from limes and brown sugar.

Of Aripo's three dessert selections, I was intrigued by Mango Mousse and was a bit disappointed to learn that the restaurant was out of it. So after I left I stopped at the Sugar Fixé pâtisserie across the way for a pretty good raspberry macaron.

But except for the missing mousse, my visit to Aripo's was delicious and delightful, and while the La Nuestra arepa, shark empanada and Venezuelan lemonade each had certain similarities to flavors I've savored elsewhere, they were--like Aripo's seems to be on the Chicagolandscape--rather unique. 

No comments: