Last night, the fiancee and I headed to Watertown for our first meal at La Casa de Pedro, a small Venezuelan restaurant, run by "Pedro", a Venezuelan man determined to show off the cuisine of his homeland. In short, the whole experience was very good.
The room is a small and simple, but noticeably recently renovated, and some nice, colorful paintings adorn the walls. Diners are all in view of the open kitchen which is lined with some pretty tiles. The room is a bit crammed with tables, but in the end that just adds to the energy of the room. There is also a very pretty, enclosed heated patio, which we will likely opt for on our second visit.
As we looked over the menu, we each had a drink whose Spanish name I forget. It was a mixture of sparkling wine and freshly squeezed fruit juice. The three options (which may change periodically), were mango, passion fruit, and papaya. I had the passion fruit, and my fiancee had the mango. We were both very impressed. Each drink came in a champagne flute with the rims lined with crystallized sugar, and a garnish of a lime wedge. Often, tropical fruit cocktails will use bottled fruit nectar or concentrate (or even syrup) as the fruit flavor. I was very impressed by the flavor of FRESH mango and passion fruit juice. A wonderful start to the meal.
We then shared a couple of appetizers. A bean and cheese "empanada", and shrimp ceviche. (Although the menu appeared to offer a choice between fish or shrimp ceviche, as we would have preferred the fish, we were disappointed to learn that they only had shrimp that evening.) The empanada was much more crisp that the flaky Mexican empanadas to which I am accustomed. A crisp (almost hard) pastry shell, deep-fried, enclosing a deliciously fresh combination of whole black beans and Venezuelan queso fresco. The shrimp ceviche, although lacking in any fiery spice, was full of vibrant flavors (as was all the food!) of sweet tomatoes, cilantro, etc. It was a bit like shrimp marinated in a well-prepared salsa or pico de gallo -- all served on a bed of lettuce.
We then had three items as our entree: one entree and two more appetizers. The first appetizer was perhaps the biggest disappointment. Not because it wasn't good, but rather because it was yet another occasion on which the menu description didn't match what was served. The menu promised octopus marinated in olive oil with potatoes. What was delivered was octopus in the exact same sauce that the shrimp ceviche was in. Again, tasty, but a shame to duplicate the exact flavors we had just tasted.
The other appetizer was an "arepa". A signature dish of Venezuela, arepas are corn patties enclosing any of a variety of fillings. There were five options. Bean and cheese, cheese, beef and cheese, chicken and avocado, and one more. Our beef and cheese was delicious. Shredded beef that appeared to have been braised, with that delicious queso fesco, sandwiched between light fried cornmeal patties. Excellent.
Perhaps the biggest hit of all was next: the roast chicken. Apparently, Pedro "marinates" the chicken in something citrus-based for tow days. (Incidentally, beware, like brining, this causes the effect of pink meat, even when the meat is cooked through perfectly. Don't be put off by pink chicken. It's not undercooked. It's just an effect of the marinade.) It is then roasted, and finally, just before it is served, it is thrown on the grill for a few minutes. I know this, because I looked into the pretty open kitchen as the chef prepared our chicken. The serving was ENORMOUS. In addition to a half roast chicken, the huge plate brought yuca frita with cilantro sauce, two different mounds of rice, some gorgeously mushy plantains, a grilled tomato, and a "tomato-and-cheese sausage." There was not a loser on the plate. Everything was wonderful.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of la Casa de Pedro was the vibrancy of all the flavors. Every ingredient seemed to be alive with flavor. This is a refreshing change from the typical hit-or-miss results at so many other restaurants. It is rare to find a restaurant where every dish is bursting with fresh, vibrant flavors. Nothing dull. Nothing muted. (Only a few such restaurants with similarly vibrant flavors and ingredients spring to mind: Pasta Nostra in Norwalk, CT; Atasca in Cambridge; Patria, in NYC; Trotters-to-Go in Chicago. I am sure there are many more, but, hey it's early Sunday morning and the mind is slowly waking up. Trio Ravioli shop in the North End is another along those lines.)
To cap off our meal (during which we also enjoyed a pleasant pitcher of Sangria), we shared another pleasant surprise. Coconut flan. I was initially disappointed that the only choices for dessert are flan. Three different flavors each night. The coconut was recommended as the best. It was, without question, the best flan Ive ever had. Often, flan has a smooth, jello-like, consistency, that makes you wonder why you are wasting the calories on such a boring dessert. This flan, however, has such a thick, rich consistency --- it reminded me of the gorgeous, creamy, thick filling of the Portuguese Pasteis de Belem. It even has some roughness to it with the shredded coconut stirred in. It was drizzled in a perfect caramelized sugar sauce. Heaven.
With two fruit drinks, a pitcher of sangria, and all of the food I described, with tax and tip, our total was roughly $70. VERY reasonable.
Las Casa De Pedro, 51 Main Street, Watertown, MA.