Orinoco: Expand Your Palette with Venezuelan Flavors

by Bovey Rao ’19

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In the surrounding Harvard Square, the plethora of dining options may appear daunting at first, but ultimately, the food becomes rather uniform with relatively limited cuisine types represented. Yes, there are quite a few cuisines: from Korean at Kaju and Bonchon, to Thai at Spice and 9 Tastes, Pizza (Italian? kinda?) at OTTO and Pinocchio’s, and Japanese at OSushi and Café Sushi. However, these cuisines are universally represented on most college campuses across the country, and do not challenge our palettes. Not detracting from the quality of these establishments, but sometimes a little culinary adventure is exciting and necessary for sanity. Fortunately, a few of such restaurants exist nearby that extend the small culinary bubble of Harvard Square a little further.

I would frequently walk on Kennedy Street for a late night bite at Tasty Burger or a quick drink at Boston Tea Shop, but it took many times to finally notice Orinoco. The Venezuelan establishment is marked only by a small gate and is easily missed at first glance. Making a mental note, I vowed to visit at some point, as my experience with Venezuelan food in Utah had been overwhelming positive.

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My friend and I entered at what appeared to be an off hour, as it took a while to finally be seated. After a quick examination of the menu, the Venezuelan specialties of arepas, corn pockets, immediately popped out. The variety was incredible, but they were also overbearing because the dishes were nearly indistinguishable. However, after some quick Googling and deliberation, we made our decisions. Looking around, I observed only a single waitstaff, which seemed unreasonable given the number of customers in the restaurant. Thus, the service felt lackluster, as my friend and I waited impatiently for the single wait staff to take our order. When the waiter did finally come, I was still underwhelmed as he failed to answer my questions and seemed slightly annoyed.

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Another sizable wait later, our food arrived, and after snapping my pictures, we dug in. Slightly confused, I glanced at empanada mechada (shredded beef) and was surprised to see an accompanying salad. However, after a sample, I understood why. The fried, crisp empanada with savory interior demanded a fresh acidic component to counterbalance it. Mixing the two created a perfect balance on my palette as the rich, fatty mechada was complemented by the incredible vinaigrette.

As a typical accompaniment to a meal, I ordered the tostones, which are pounded plantains. The first one I enjoyed immensely with the flavorful tomato mojo giving the tostone an incredible earthiness. However, discovering that the others lacked the mojo, I experienced remorse as the remaining tostones lacked that incredible flavor.

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The arepas were filled with reasonable amounts of whatever you wanted them to be filled with. My selections of black beans with palmizulia cheese and strip steak with onions and peppers (one of the specials) were pricey, but I hoped they would deliver in flavor. The domino arepa, black beans and palmizulia cheese, suffered from a lack in seasoning and a uniform texture, but the arepa itself was well executed. With the creamy center and crunchy exterior, the pocket itself was phenomenal. I doubted myself consuming the whole arepa, until I discovered the salty but powerful mojo sauce on the side. The flavor restored, I finished the domino arepa and switched to the strip steak arepa. Fearing another under seasoned dish, I prepared myself, but was pleasantly surprised. The strip steak melted in my mouth, and texturally was balanced by the crunchy pocket and crisp vegetables. The strong taste of the onions and peppers made for a much more flavorful arepa and complete bite.

While the food was in general pretty good, I was rather underwhelmed given my past experiences with Venezuelan cuisine. The rich, bold flavors of Latin America that I expected were not present. However, I realize that my experience might have been affected by the poor service and the off hours. Given the incredible reputation of Orinoco, I was slightly disappointed, but I will return at a better hour, well equipped with my appetite.

Orinoco

Location: 56 John F. Kennedy Street (3 Locations)

Reservation: Don’t Accept

Stand out dishes: Empanada Mechada, Arepa La Llenada (special that resembles fajitas)

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (Definitely warrants a revisit due to the off hour visit)

Food: 3.5/5

Service: 3/5

Ambience: 4/5

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