DEER PARK, Ohio - Each Thursday, our "Global Table" column explores the international side of Greater Cincinnati dining. Follow WCPO contributor, Grace Yek, as she talks to the chefs and owners of these dining spots about their food, culture and journey to the Tri-State.
Where: 8100 Blue Ash Rd., Cincinnati
Food: Authentic Venezuelan fare
Prices: Breakfast $3.50- to $6.50; Entrees $7.00 to $13.00
Arrechissimo is not shy about billing its food as the top of the line. After all, the name, in Spanish, implies "the best of the best." In an unassuming neighborhood of Deer Park, the restaurant plays the role of a culinary ambassador, offering an authentic taste of Venezuelan food at reasonable prices.
The breakfast items, as with all other items on the concise menu, are available throughout the day. The fresh juices are a good bet to get your juices going. Pick from a variety, ranging from passion fruit to mango.
Arepas, a Venezuelan staple, are front and center on the menu. An arepa is a round thick bread--somewhat resembling an oversized English muffin--made of ground maize. The arepa (pictured below) is split and stuffed with the meaty goodness of ham, beef, chicken or reina pepiada (chicken salad with avocado).
Its trusty sidekick, queso blanco (white cheese), is neatly packed into this sandwich to give it a creamy dimension.
Another favorite, cachitos, look vaguely like croissants, but are actually rolls filled with ham. Together with the empanadas--tasty turnovers filled with beef, chicken or cheese--these items lend themselves to eating on-the-go because of their inherent portability.
The tequenos give their more well-known relative, fried mozzarella cheese sticks, a run for the money. Sticks of queso blanco are wrapped in flaky pastry and deep-fried until golden brown. The crispy pastry contrasts with the mildly salty and soft cheese sticks in the most perfect way. House-made cilantro sauce accompanies the tequenos. (Pictured below)
The Venezuelan Typical Plate (also called pabellon) is considered the national dish of Venezuela. Rice, shredded beef, sweet plantain, and black beans with white cheese comprise the offering.
Arrechissimo sometimes offers cachapa, a sweet yellow corn pancake filled with white cheese, as a special.
Meet the owner
Javier Almeida hopes you taste the love from Venezuela in every bite of food at Arrechissimo. Almeida, born and raised in Caracas, was a civil engineer in his home country. When he came to Cincinnati three years ago, he got the chance to realize his lifelong dream.
“It was my dream to have a restaurant one time in my life,” Almeida said. Together with his wife, Lorena Vazquez, they took the plunge and opened Arrechissimo in June 2013.
“I started a Venezuelan restaurant because there was none in Cincinnati," he said.
Almeida talks fondly about the food that surrounded him in Caracas, with one particular favorite in mind: Arepas.
“It’s something you go to eat at three or four in the morning, after you finish partying,” he explained, with a chuckle. Las Mercedes, an entertainment district in Caracas, is famous for its array of shops, galleries, restaurants, and of course, arepas.
Almeida is moved when his customers tell him that the arepas at Arrechissimo are better than the American classic: the hamburger.
"They say it's fresh tasting," he said. It's no wonder, since Almeida uses fresh ingredients, and makes the food to order.
“I am happy when I see a smile on my customer’s face,” Almeida said. "I'm sending love to my customers through my food."
Almeida compares food in Venezuela to a party.
"It celebrates life, and the different flavors celebrate the many cultures in the country," he said.
Venezuelan food is distinctly different from Mexican cuisine. Don't expect to find tacos, burritos, and quesadillas at Arrechissimo. Instead, prepare to savor food like arepas and pabellon, without the spicy heat that’s often associated with Latin American food.
Venezuelan cuisine is not spicy; it favors sweet peppers instead of hot peppers--although Almeida makes a spicy version of his cilantro sauce to suit his customers' preferences.
The cuisine leans on aromatic components like garlic, onion, and laurel--an assortment of herbs like basil, oregano, thyme and bay leaf.
Beef, such as carne merchada (shredded beef) is a mainstay, alongside with cheese.
"We have a hundred different types of white cheese, it's really quite amazing," Almeida said. Some examples of white cheese in Venezuelan food include Queso de Mano, Queso Guayanés and Queso Telita.
According to Almeida, dinner in Venezuela is the lightest meal of the day, sometimes just amounting to a glass of milk. It's customary to eat a hearty breakfast and lunch is also substantial, with pabellon, and other considerable plates with grilled meats.
"The people of Venezuela are very friendly, happy and hard working,"
Almeida said. "We are entrepreneurial, yet have a great feeling for humanity. We are arrechissimo people."
By the way
Arrechissimo offers catering, carry-out and delivery only, at least for now. Almeida has big plans for the future, which include a bigger restaurant with a proper dining space. He's also looking into opening multiple small restaurants in the area, with limited menus. That's not all. Almeida hints you may someday find his food in a grocery store near you.