Continuing on the arepa trail, last week I stopped by Yunza. The signage out front lists Mexican and Peruvian cuisine, however, due to a prior post on the place, I knew I could find Venezuelan specialties here too.
Complimentary chips and salsa fresca were served while I looked at the menu. Made with pallid, mealy tomatoes at this time of the year, the salsa was anemic and the chips not notable. But no matter, I was here for other things. When I ordered la reina pepiada, pollo frito con yucca y guasacaca, and frescolito (Venezuelan strawberry soda), my waitress (perhaps the owner?) asked me if I was from Venezuela. Thats never happened before!
The arepa de la reina pepiada, $3.50, was stuffed with cubes of dead ripe avocado and shredded chicken salad held together with a little mayonnaise and some sweet onion. I really liked the contrast of the hot white cornmeal cake against the cold temperature of the filling. The arepa here seemed wider and a browned a bit more than Chuaos. Sadly, the crust was tough and the inside firm rather than creamy. After a couple bites, I only ate the tasty filling and left the cornmeal shell. I asked my server if it was made in advance and microwaved. She explained that most people are not willing to wait very long for an appetizer to be served, so they make up the arepas in advance and heat them in the microwave. However, she said that next time, if I were willing to wait 15 minutes, one could be made fresh for me. I will do that and also ask that some of the center be hollowed out to just leave the thin outside shell. The chicken and avocado filling was delicious enough that I could make this a regular snack.
I had better luck with the pollo frito, $6.75. Normally offered as a piece of the breast, I ordered the dark meat portion that is the whole leg with part of the back. Served in one piece, the chicken was lightly dusted with a ruddy mix that tasted and smelled like cumin and pimenton powder. The meat was slashed on the diagonal in the thick spots and was succulent and juicy, perhaps from prior marination or brining. The skin was ungreasy and crisp with its savory crust. The accompanying small bowl of guasacaca sauce added a nice touch of bright acidity to the fried chicken and crunchy fried chunks of yucca. Made of mashed avocado blended with vinegar, onion, garlic, and fresh cilantro and parsley, it had a refreshing tart note compared to Mexicos guacamole. On checking with my Venezuelan informant later, I understand that this was a fairly tame version. This made a terrific lunch and was a great value as well.
For dessert, I took home a powder sugar-dusted alfajore, $1.25, to be enjoyed later. The cookie was overbrowned and the caramel filling was grainy. I wouldnt buy this again.
Looking at Yunzas website today, I see that Paul Reidinger reviewed it in the Guardian on Wednesday. He muses that the noted Chinese flavors in the Peruvian dishes he tried lend credence to the Asian origin of Americas aboriginal people. He might want to examine the more recent history of Chinese and Japanese migration to work in Perus tin mines and the popularity of their cooking in South America for a more plausible connection. (g)