Tuesday, September 6, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

One of our first Napa stops was at the Oxbow Public Market, a compilation of specialty food shops merged with an upscale Food Court. The first order of business was lunch.

“Anchoring the dining experience at the Market is Kitchen Door…offering an ingredient-driven menu of handmade, multi-ethnic comfort food created with local and seasonal products. For a classic Napa Valley treat, grab a legendary burger or fish taco at the latest incarnation of Gott’s Roadside, the cult burger stand begun up the road in St. Helena. Pica Pica Maize Kitchen will introduce you to zesty Venezuelan cuisine.... Also in the main Hall, Hog Island Oyster Company features succulent fresh oysters.... Ca’ Momi offers authentic, wood-fired Italian pizzas, traditional Italian pastries, and classic Italian wines to satisfy eager wine country residents and visitors alike.

The Oxbow Wine Merchant & Wine Bar also offers delicious, casual fare that perfectly accom-panies its vast wine offerings, and C CASA—an Innovative Taqueria, promises unique tacos, house-made white corn tortillas and chips, chili-rubbed rotisserie meats, fresh salsas, salads and interesting sides all with an innovative twist” (www.oxbowpublicmarket.com).

We were looking for something different and what could be more different than Venezuelan food? “Pica Pica Maize Kitchen brings the undis-covered cuisine of Venezuela to American diners. Using traditional Venezuelan recipes, fresh local produce and ingredients of the highest quality, Pica Pica’s menu presents a selection of dishes seen across Venezuela” (www.oxbowpublic market.com). Now I know nothing about Venezuelan food, but I suspect that Pica Pica’s offerings might look a lot like that country’s fast food or street food.

Having no idea what we were doing, we spent considerable time studying the menu board. “Pica Pica’s signature dish is the arepa, a grilled corn flour cake, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, stuffed with traditional Venezuelan fillings…” (www.oxbowpublic market.com). The two other choices were the maize`wich on sweet corn bread and cachapa, a 100% sweet corn pancake.
“Cachapas are a traditional Venezuelan dish made from corn. Like arepas, they are popular at roadside stands…The most common varieties are made with fresh ground corn mixed into a thick batter and cooked on a budare, like pancakes; the cachapa is slightly thicker and lumpier because of the pieces from corn kernels” (www.wikipedia.com). And I should note that the “breads” are dairy-free and wheat gluten-free.

Once you have chosen the bread, another challenge remains. What filling? And there are multiple choices ranging from: Pepeada—chicken salad with guasacaca (creamy avocado); Pelu`a—shredded beef with cheddar cheese; Pabellon—shredded beef, sweet plantains, black beans, and queso fresco; Vegetari-ana—grilled tofu, avocado, sweet plantains, and black beans with spicy cream; La shuli—black beans, seasoned tomatoes, onions, and cilantro with guasacaca on the side; Catira—chicken with guiso (meat and vegetable stew) base and gouda cheese; Pernil—pulled pork, sliced tomatoes, and avocado; and Clasica—deviled ham and cheese.

Confused yet? We were. So our orders were just a guess—an arepa with pernil for me and a cachapa with pelu'a for Chuck. And from the short list of sides, we added the yuca fries (A tropical root vegetable also called cassava. Fresh yuca has a white stringy flesh and a dark brown skin that feels like bark. It is a starchy vegetable [answers. ask.com]).

Let’s start with the yuca fries. I have no idea how these were done, but they had a soft and creamy interior as if the yuca had been cooked and mashed and then formed into logs before frying. They had a slightly sweet flavor much like sweet potatoes and were especially good with the smoked chile and sour cream dipping sauce that came on the side.

In the case of the maize bread “sandwiches,” I preferred one element of Chuck’s and one element of mine. The shredded pork in my arepa was succulent, tender and moist, and tasted as if it had been marinated with garlic. I found the corn cake to be less appealing. It was on the thick side and became soggy from the pork juices.

On the other hand, Chuck’s cachapa was thinner than a traditional pancake but thicker than a crepe and had a nice sweet (from the whole corn kernels) and toasty flavor from the grilling process. But I thought that my filling had more flavor than his shredded beef. The combination of my pernil (filling) and his cachapa (pancake) might be hard to beat.

Was this authentic Venezuelan food? I don’t know. What do I know about Venezuelan food? But we left happy after a 4.0 Addie lunch.

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