I have traveled to 17 countries, but not to Venezuela…yet. It looks like it’s time to put it on my itinerary after eating at Coupa Café. Since January 7-13 is “Around the World in Beverly Hills” Restaurant Week, it’s an ideal time to travel with your palate, without depleting your pocketbook.
I was invited to try Venezuelan food by the PR company which represents Coupa Café and I was intrigued enough to venture out to “exotic” Beverly Hills to this beautifully appointed and easily accessible home away from home for many South American expats. One of the tell tale signs that a restaurant is serving authentic cuisine is that expats eat there. Another tell tale sign is that the restaurant actually has a branch in their home country, and Coupa Café has a branch in Caracas! And the third sign of authentic cuisine is when they source their ingredients from natives; the cheese that they use in the restaurant is flown in from Miami where it is made by Venezuelans!
Since I was invited, my meal was fully comped, and they knew that I would be writing this post. Having worked in the industry and written many reviews, I know when good service and food are consistent and when they are not. It is definitely consistent here as I watched the reactions from other diners who were equally happy with their meals (if anything changes on a subsequent visit, it will be noted here).
The outdoor patio is a wonderful place to eat if the weather in Los Angeles is as balmy as it usually is, even in the winter.
I sat inside the lovely recently redecorated café.
With a view of the wine bottles.
And a nice seating area with a fireplace.
The interior also had beautiful fresh flowers and a tempting pastry case with goodies to go.
One of the specials for this week is a traditional Venezuelan coconut milkshake called a Cocada for $4 that was the perfect tropical accompaniment to my meal. It is made with coconut water, so it it not as rich as a creamy milkshake, but perfect for those of us who love coconut water and freshly grated coconut.
My excellent server, Nicky, presented my first course of Tequeños, made with Paisa cheese wrapped in a flour dough and fried, and it came with a home made guava jam that I wanted to eat by the spoonful! For $7, this Venezuelan appetizer offered an umami combination of salty cheese with crispy fried dough and a sweet and sour guava jam that was so addictive I ate two! The home made jam was so good I asked Nicky if they had any for sale; unfortunately they do not sell it, but he offered to pack some to go for me :)
My next course was another appetizer, or pasapalos, the mini cachapas, also $7. These were mini corn griddle cakes with de mano cheese and served with a fresh sour cream called nata. I am not someone who loves sweet dishes, but the sweet corn in this dish was outstanding. I wanted to give the griddle cakes a standing ovation for the subtle fresh corn flavor, the caramelized crunchy sweetness on the bottom, and the wonderful combination of cheese and fresh sour cream that made this a dish you could eat as an appetizer, side dish or even dessert. You can tell how much I liked this dish because it came with four pieces, but I ate one before I realized I had not yet taken a photo!
My main course was the Pabellón with carne mechada, black beans, rice, and arepitas $19. I have never eaten the nationally known dish of carne mechada before, but now I believe that I am addicted to it! The flavors of the peppers, onions, and tomato are infused in the shredded beef and offer such an aromatic enhancement that you may wonder how you ever settled for any other kind of shredded beef. Because the flavor of the beef is vegetable based, the beef does not taste heavy like a braised short rib, so you can eat this as easily in the summer as the winter months.
The rice was fabulously done with a vegetable stock that sang out “eat me”, and the beans were a good starch without much spice for those who prefer their beans plain. The arepitas are a crunchy fried cornmeal accompaniment which some people will adore and others will find bland, but like the beans, it will all depend on your preference.
The specialty appetizer I was invited to try was the torta de platano, a traditional sweet fried plantain dish, layered with white cheese and papelon, a raw hardened sugar cane pulp, for $8. It tasted more like a great dessert to me, especially if you love bananas or plantains and sugar. It was very rich and quite sweet, but not tooth achingly sweet. I ate about a third of one of these pieces and was completely satiated. If you have a sweet tooth you might be able to finish one piece (half an order).
Nicky promised me that the last thing I had to taste was the Mayan hot chocolate. I was happy to see it came in an small espresso cup after my many courses. After one sip, I was enthralled to discover that the flavor was spicy, warm, and chocolaty. They also make a mocha version, and since they are famous for their coffees, the next time I come, I will be ordering that variation.
Thanks to Lisa and Mila from PMBC Group for the invitation, thanks to Nicky for your wonderful service, and thank-you Camelia Coupal for creating such a wonderful space with delectable dishes to introduce those of us who live in Southern California to Venezuelan cuisine.