A carnivore, a vegetarian, and a vegan walk into a restaurant… – Restaurant Arepera

by Jason

The restaurantscape of Montreal has always been full of variety, providing Montreal great eating options. I’m so pleased with the fact that recently, there have been more and more of my ethnic peoples representing and opening up small family eateries and reminding Montreal that it is us that makes the city rich in multiculturalism and diversity. From restaurant chefs going back to their roots to open up pop-ups serving spicy brochettes typical of those found on the streets of Tianjin, or pub grub found in the 10 seater side-alley bars of Tokyo; the variety of restaurants Montreal is now as extensive as Giada’s adjective dictionary – pay attention to how she describes her food the next time you watch her.

I met up with the lovely Kristel of Kristel’s Kitchen for lunch at Arepera, a hot little Venezuelan arepa joint in the plateau. A popular snack in Latin-American, an arepa is a cross a bun-like/sandwich/pita made with a corn flour bun that was grilled then baked, stuffed with a variety of ingredients, served up finger-tip singeing hot.

I ordered one of their fresh juices. A vibrant display of , mango, passion fruit, black currant and guanabana. “WHO?”, you say? Yeah, that’s what I said. After trying to decipher and wading through our waitress’ thick accent, the conversation went like this, “It is guanabana”, “guava?”, “No, no, guanabana“, “whatagwan Anna? “GUAVA.BANA!” “Gary’s banana?!” She gave up and said it was her favorite juce, so I said I trust her and had a glass.

After doing some 3G research at the table. I found out that “Gary’s banana” is also known as the “soursop” fruit. If you’ve never had it before, the juice has the gritty texture that of a pear. It was barely sweet (I assume no additional sugar was added), but quite floral in taste. A bit thick, but I found that this came in handy when I felt as though I was scraping my taste-buds off with a heated masonry trowel after testing the hot sauce.

Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soursop

We started with an order of freshly fried casava chips. It was served with a cirtus-garlic sauce. Thick cut yucca chips, as it turns out we are both chip fiends, and we killed them pretty quickly.

We also ordered the fried plantains. Fresh yellow plantains (as you can see rippening on the counter in front of the drinks above) fried and topped with fresh cheese. At first bite, the hard crispy crust gave way to a sweet and fluffy interior, complimented by the sourness of the cheese. I’ve had fried plantains before and I’ve always been a fan, but Kristel… (Miss Kitchen if you nasty), took it to a completely different level. It evoked memories of her childhood which brought out great stories and awesome conversation.

Kristel ordered the avocado, tomato, onion option – the vegetarian arepa. Arepera boasts the use of 100% gluten free corn flour. They have great vegetarian and even vegan options on their menu. However, trying to please everyone, they did manage to overlook a very special group of people who have very specific dietary restrictions – the other end of the vegan spectrum, the EpicMealTimeians. You’d think with the amount of pork on the menu, bacon strips would be obvious, but no.

We discussed the make up of this sandwich and concluded that she essentially ordered the guacamole arepa. Not to its discredit, it was a very tasty guacamole made with very fresh ingredients. She said she was expecting something a bit different, as was I. I use the word “sandwich” loosely, because it resembles and has the characteristics of a sandwich, but it isn’t. Kind of like how Christina Aguilera is a “singer”… sure she sells albums and is a performer on paper, but a singer she is not… more than she is an untied balloon that you pinch the tip of while letting it deflate itself, letting out a chorus of “MEEEeeeeEE BoooBoobobob BLAAAAA-yeahyeahyeahhhh~”.

I had the pabellon arepa. Succulent braised beef topped with fresh grated cheese, stewed black beans and fried plantains. The gangbang of textures and flavors in this arepa was off the charts. The hard crusty bite to the corn-flour bun, to the juicy tender beef was set off by the sourness of the cheese and the sweetness of the plantains, then doused in hot sauce; this arepa is serious.

When I say serious, I mean it in the sense that it’s packed full of ingredients. Busting at the seems with filling, the beans found their way popping out of the arepa with every bite, as little bursts of beany fireworks in celebration of an areparadic fiesta.

Each arepa basket comes with a little side. We ended up with a small bowl of fresh diced vegetables, topped with a little salt and cumin. Some other tables had beans, so whether the side is dependent on the arepa it’s accompanying, I’m not sure. It was nothing spectacularly special.

Arepera has amazing varieties of arepas; from pulled pork, braised beef and fish to great vegetarian and vegan options. They also make an effort to inform everyone that they use exclusively grain-fed chicken from Voilaillees et Bibiers Fernando a butcher shop right around the corner. It’s refreshing to know that there now is an option where meat eaters, vegetarians, gluten sensitive, and… vegans… can eat under the same roof and that roof not having to be a park chalet and the meal being a potluck.

4050 deBullion

Arepera on Urbanspoon

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Charles Heffling August 11, 2011 - 1:10 pm

Arepera du Plateau…more a miss than a hit… I came to this place with a friend because I read the review on The Gazette I was truly disappointed. I ordered a pabellon with chicken and my guest a pabellon with cazon (shredded shark), plus a mango juice and a guanabana (soursop) juice. The food was tasteless, boiled rice without a trace of onion, garlic, bell pepper or even salt…the black beans they seemed to be straight from the can and reheated, again no spicy flavor at all..the shark was more like canned tuna (as far as I know shark is a very expensive fish, so they should be charging more than 11 dollars for this so they can make some profit, which means that either they are losing money by serving shark, or the shark IS canned tuna)…the juices were watery, in substance and flavor, not a hint of sweetness, the only thing that we actually enjoyed were the tajadas (slices of fried ripe plantain, served with grated cheese).

The service was OK, I asked the waiter for tajadas and he had no clue of what I was ordering, which means he’s not Venezuelan, but I must say that he was friendly even if a bit slow.

Unfortunately this was not a happy culinary experience, I lived in Venezuela for several years and I know what Venezuelan food is like, an exotic mixture Spanish cuisine with tropical accents, lots of garlic, onions, bell pepper, aji dulce, cumin, annato, I know that rice is boiled with a bit of oil, garlic, salt and a bell pepper to give it some flavor, I know what caraotas (black beans) are like, and cazon means cazon, not canned tuna. I have to say that this place gives Venezuelan food a bad reputation, maybe they can get away with it because most of people in Montreal have not been exposed to Venezuelan food and don’t know what real Venezuelan food tastes like… I lived in Venezuelan and quite honestly, I feel shortchanged. Perhaps I should get a copy of Mi Cocina by Armando Scanone and leave it at the counter.

And by the way, those joropos are way too loud and prevent customers from having a conversation without screaming at each other

Jason August 11, 2011 - 9:05 pm

I’m sorry to hear that your time at Arepera was disappointing. The place has only been open for three months; although I do understand that when you open a restaurant, it’s good to hit the ground running, however, a certain degree of common sense would dictate that with any new business, there should be some leeway in terms of working out the kinks and settling into a rhythm. To say it’s forgivable isn’t WRONG, but it’s something that should be looked into to maintain a level of consistency.

The notion of “authenticity” is relative to what guidelines you’re using to govern your definition, no? Living in the country isn’t indicative of someone’s expertise or claim of knowing what a cuisine “should” taste like… it would be like saying, just because you ride the bus everyday, you would know how to drive one. Maybe I have fallen for the sucker-trap that they set out to TELL me what Venezuelan food should taste like… or maybe not. To reference an essay by Todd Kliman concerning the “authenticity” of food, you can’t “legislate the chef’s hands”. The authenticity of one dish that two different people are making will differ from city to city, street to street, house to house. No one can say they’re making it wrong because they both have been taught how to make it right.

Thanks for commenting!

Charles Heffling August 11, 2011 - 11:50 pm

Sorry, but living in Venezuela for 18 years does gives me a basis to judge the food of the Arepera, having grown up in Caracas, speaking Spanish like a native and having eaten caraotas, pabellon, cachapas , arepas, empanadas, asado negro and even mondongo for so many years does give me a certain level of authority to qualify the food offered by the Arepera. I can understand that the restaurant has to fine-tune some details in regards to customer service and so forth, however, that is no excuse to serve bad food, especially when all the ingredients (probably with the exception of the cazon, queso de mano or queso telita, and the aji dulce) are available in local markets, it’s not that they have to use a special spice or ingredient from Venezuela…salt, garlic, onions, bell peppers, paprika, cumin, even papelon are available in Montreal. There is no reason for them to serve bland and tasteless food. So, Mr. Jason, however you slice it, no matter how philosophical you may get, or no matter which culinary art or anthropological point of view you may use to analyse their food the truth is that the pabellon that was served to me was bland, at its best, and I don’t have to be a restaurant critic to see that. One thing is serving a dish with regional variations and another serving tasteless food. Maybe the owners should take my critique as a proof that people do notice when they are shortchanged, and instead of getting defensive or being oblivious they should improve the quality of the food they serve, otherwise they place will have a short history.

Jason August 12, 2011 - 9:22 am

That’s awesome, I’m still trying to figure out if my Quebec maple syrup is more maple syrup then the ones from Vermont. Have a great weekend! 😀

Charles Heffling August 12, 2011 - 11:14 am

If you have to figure that out then probably you should be doing something else than rating restaurants….if you can’t understand the difference between maple syrup and preparing a meal with different ingredients maybe you should be in another business…maybe selling shoes.

Brendan August 12, 2011 - 1:06 pm

Haters going to hate, eaters going to eat.

In my opinion if you want authenticity you have to go to the source, otherwise you have to accept a certain level of dilution. To expect a 100% genuine Venezuelan experience in the middle of Quebec, Canada is a problem with your own expectations, not the restaurant itself.

Charles Heffling August 12, 2011 - 6:54 pm

One thing is dilution and variation…and another, very different bad food…the problem is not Canada, Venezuelan cuisine or hating…the problem is serving bad food, or not using the necessary ingredients (which are cheap and not hard to find in Quebec) just to make more profit…that’s all…..would yu like to eat poutine made with tapioca instead of potatoes when potatoes are so abundant in Quebec?

Methinks not

Brendan August 16, 2011 - 9:38 am

Dude I love tapioca, I would eat that shit up in a second.

Charles Heffling September 2, 2011 - 9:32 pm

The point is not that you like shit or tapioca, you are free to have your culinary preferences and eat whatever you want …the point is that they serve crappy food when they could do so much better and all the ingredients are available here in Montreal.

Max September 5, 2011 - 2:22 pm

Hello Mr. Heffling,

I’m the owner, and I would welcome your advice. I just want to clarify a few points. It’s probably true that the taste is different from what you were expecting. Probably it’s because we don’t use any artificial flavours. All our food is made from fresh, natural products, and we’re always striving to pick the best quality products. I also want to tell you that we do buy shark at ‘La Mer’, you can check it out. Our chicken is grain-fed chicken from ‘Fernando Volailles & Gibiers’. I don’t understand your obsession in trying to discredit our restaurant. For your information most Venezuelans who come to the restaurant are happy with our food, and come back to show off Venezuelan cuisine to their non-Venezuelan friends.

Thank you,

Lorena January 11, 2012 - 6:05 pm

This goes for Mr Heffling:
I am a Venezuelan woman, been here for 5 years. I had a restaurant in Venezuela. I will tell you the difference between “arepera” food here and the food you ate in Venezuelan places, the main reason you think Venezuela has more taste is because of all the “cubitos” and “adobo” they add in their food, which has so much msg in it, and its not the reall thng. its ridiculous. that is what makes it sooo tasty as you say, but this “arepera” in montreal, the minute you taste it, you know is the real natural stuff you are tasting there. it reminds me of my grandma’s cooking as she never agreed with the adobo and cubito they use in venezuela as is so bad for hypertension. Do you get it now?

Chupa Teste January 19, 2012 - 4:25 am

Lots or aggression against Heffling around here. Hey, if the guy didn t like the food ot the music he is free to say it. Got it Arepera fanboys/girls?

marie January 26, 2012 - 12:13 pm

Well i went to this restaurant and everything was amazing !
I have lived in Costa Rica for 10 years,
and its rare that i find latinos restaurants in Montreal with the almost same flavors as when you eat in thoses countries
and Arepera du Plateau does taste amazing compared to other restaurants in that same category…
so BRAVO!!!

Nuff June 29, 2012 - 2:02 am

Just to mention that Guanabana ice cream (or maybe sorbet) is available, and incredible, at Kem Coba on Fairmount/St. Laurent.

Also, will be hitting up the Arepera shortly. Never been to Venezuela but having had way to much Latin American/African/Caribbean food, I’m looking forward to it.

ELisabeth Genest September 28, 2013 - 12:21 pm

Favorite. restaurant.at.the.moment. Seriously, it’s so good, so delicious. I’ve tried making areas myself and let’s just say that I’m willing to my homemade recipe for those delicious, warm, amzing areas 🙂 🙂 🙂 will go back, on my birthday yeayyy can’t wait!!!!


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