Our 4 years participating in Trilogia en Fusion have given us some interesting eating experiences. Arepas seem to take on an ethereal quality that is difficult to translate in even the best areperas in Miami. The deep soulful flavors of cheeses such as queso telita and queso mano don't transcend over the Gulf and Carribean to our Latin markets. Some defy definition or classification... natilla (not the custard as the name implies in Columbia, Spain, and other parts of the Spanish speaking world), but more like the richest butter that tastes more like the step child of butter and sour cream. Contrary to popular belief, Christopher Columbus did not hold that the world was round, but rather pearish in shape. He described it as mostly round with a 'nipple' on it, and on that nipple was Eden... complete paradise. In a later journey following his 1492 'discovery,' he was convinced that he had found that nipple. Geographically, what he had found was Venezuela. We can thus concur that Venezuela is the nipple of the world.
As part of the entertainment provided to us each year, we are treated out in groups to restaurants in the Valencia area and also for some very interesting dinners at the Les Gourmets culinary school where the students push themselves to create meals showcasing their learned techniques mixed with the flavors of Venezuela. We are also taken out each year to a great little restaurant called Casiquiare (named after a branch of the Orinoco and also a major affluent of the Amazon). Although I do not know the full story behind this place, we were told that it used to be a club of sorts until an older Italian gentleman took it over and transformed it into something a bit more memorable. Specialties of the house include a range of smoke grilled meats and some great versions of Venezuelan classics (house-made tequenos with a unique sauce of passion fruit and cachapas with telita are among the best).
Separate from the restaurant itself, in an open building is the pizza factory. This is usually staffed by 2 or 3 employees and houses a good-sized wood-burning hearth... the only way to make truly great pizza. Since our first year here, we've watched the embers in this thing crank out the most amazing pizza. The only problem... we had never gotten to experience it. Maybe they thought a bunch of chefs would not be interested in such a thing, so this year we started dropping hints early. "Say... maybe this year we could try one of those pizzas, huh?" Well, they hooked us up, and it was worth it... best pizza in a long time.
A closer shot of the coal fire oven... there are few things more beautiful. This will be in my backyard one day... one day.
Is it a grill? A smoker? A big pit full of smoldering citrus wood that delivers some of the best flavored meats you will ever bite into? It's all of the above. The flavor of smoke from this pit instantly takes my mind back to childhood tasting meats cooked over open flame in my grandfather's yard. It's amazing how flavors and food have the power to transcend time. I love the soul of smoke. Smoke is universal.
Broad view of the kitchen/production area. The staff here basically runs itself. Complete consistency.
The Christian version of those shrines you see in every Chinese restaurant... I love the sacrificial glass of vino tinto for Jesus (Hay-Soos). Beautiful.
The wooden boards: Every meal we've had at Casiquiare has been served family style. What made the very first experience special was that everyone had one of these wooden cutting boards set to eat off of. Now of course this would be a huge Health Department 'no-no' anywhere in the US, and apparently it is now also in Venezuela since every meal since has utilized plates. We were told that these boards will be gone very soon. They are each knife-scarred and oiled deep with animal fat. It's kind of sad actually. I get the risk factor, but how great it is to devour great amounts of meat by slicing and eating it off of one of these. They also wash and dry them on this customized rack so that they air dry perfectly... what love. Wish we would have thought to ask for some. I'd hang it on the wall.
A caricature of the proprieters. Don't ask me to translate, cause I can't remember.
The owner, Señor Fantozzi. He is constantly in the dining room, walking the floor, checking in on every aspect to make sure that everything is perfect. His presence is regal and humble at the same time. We could only gesture and speak in broken Spanish to express our appreciation at how attentively he has catered to us each year, but I think he gets it. Big pimpin'.
Cachapas with queso telita... and one of the national beverages, Solera (same makers of Polar). With the amount of food we consumed there, light beer was a necessity.
A meat platter of sausages, rib cuts, and other slices I couldn't readily identify before they disappeared on my plate. That kiss of smoke is perfection.
Pretty much one the only vegetable representation the entire meal. A nice balanced salad.
Heir to the throne. The owner's son, Felice Fantozzi, and Chef K.
A good section of the dining room to waddle over to and digest.