Venezuela’s booming economy in the 1950s and 1960s produced an influx of immigrants from around the world. People poured in from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and other countries to enjoy this time of abundance. These immigrants brought with them their customs and cuisines, which have been passed on from generation to generation. This rich cultural heritage is evident in Caracas, the restaurant capital of Venezuela, where the gastronomic scene has a truly international feel. Here’s a sampling of places to experience the wide variety of international cuisines in Caracas.
A pleasant walk through the treelined streets of the Los Palos Grandes neighborhood leads to this French bakery and restaurant where the owners have achieved a successful mix of the best ingredients with gourmet techniques. The result is St. Honoré, where expats and Caraqueños come to feast on croissants, sandwiches, salads, and desserts.
This is one of the top places to get a gourmet sandwich or pizza made with the ingredients and attention to quality that’s hard to find elsewhere in Caracas. It’s also one of the few bakeries that makes a variety of European breads like pumpernickel, rye and, on Friday afternoons, challah.
The coffee here is one of the best to be had in the city. Just remember that in Venezuela a small coffee means just that — a very small demitasse with about two ounces of coffee. And for something on the sweet side, try the Nutella filled cola de langosta or the almond filled croissants.
The outside dining area is comfortable in the year-round warm weather in Caracas. Towards the end of 2012 a second restaurant in Altos de la Alameda was opened.
Within a shopping centre in La Castellana area, surrounded by embassies and multinational companies, hides a restaurant that’s been creating an authentic Japanese experience for more than 35 years. The outside dining area is surrounded by palm trees that give it a garden-like environment. Inside the restaurant there’s the hushed, tranquil feeling of entering a Japanese house.
The Japanese owners have designed dishes that are elegant, memorable, and are the most authentic Japanese cuisine available in Venezuela. The Japanese hostess, dressed in a kimono, is ready to guide diners through the experience of selecting the dishes.
The menu goes far beyond the sushi options in other Japanese style restaurants in Caracas, with tempura, sukiyakis, iidako, udon and soba dishes, and an unusual azuki ice cream for dessert. All this makes Avila Tei a preferred place for diplomats from the Japanese embassy, office workers from Japanese companies, and other expats and visitors.
Come a Casa is an Italian trattoria that serves simple yet elegant homestyle meals based on family recipes. The pleasant outside dining area leads to an indoor dining space that’s intimate and cozy, like a dining room in an Italian family’s house. The candles on the tables, the maps of Sicily on the walls, and family photos from Italy are all touches of home.
At Come a Casa dishes are complex, with surprising flavor combinations. Inspired by the Sicilian roots of its owners, there’s an emphasis on rabbit, lamb, and pork entrees. The menu is dotted with dishes and ingredients like carpaccios, arancini, sasizza, risottos, and homemade pastas. In honor of their culinary inspiration, the fettuccine nostra mamma is made with goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and asparagus. A favorite is the oversized tortellone filled with artichokes and served over sautéed eggplant, mushrooms, and tomatoes. For dessert, try the tiramisu or chocolate ravioli in Nutella sauce.
The other location, in Los Palos Grandes, is the most impressive. The large building’s unique architecture has an Old World look that seems right out of a fairytale. Many small rooms spread out over several floors take you on a culinary journey. Downstairs the wooded wine cellar is a pleasure to browse through, with a selection from around the world. Upstairs a room full of baskets and shelves stocked with imported and national chocolates and candies delights any sweet tooth.
Dining areas are found dispersed throughout the restaurant, from outside patios and second floor balconies to intimate indoor spaces. The menu boasts a wide range of dishes, but Rey David shines in its production of thin crust pizzas, salads, and sandwiches.
Enjoy a coffee at the downstairs bakery, and add to your Spanish vocabulary while ordering a coffee Venezuelan style. You can ask for a guayoyo (light black coffee), marroncito (darker, with a touch of milk), or negro (strong black coffee).
Venezuelan cacao enjoys the fame of being among the best in the world, but it can be difficult to find a good finished product in Venezuela. Belgian owners Ludo and Lisette Gillis saw that need and established La Praline in the mid-1980s to showcase fine Venezuelan cacao prepared with ingredients from around the world, like pistachios from Iran, Himalayan salt, and vanilla from Madagascar. The result is an elegant chocolate store with exceptional products.
The quality is evident when you step inside the store. The entrancing smell of chocolate is irresistible. The menu is a little overwhelming with more than 80 different chocolates. These sweets are especially good for gift giving, with packaging ranging from classic styles to special designs made by Venezuelan artists.
The store is also a foodie boutique that has inspiring books on making chocolate and enjoying coffee. In addition, there are Venezuelan travel guides and the work of local artists.
La Praline Chocolatier, Av. Andrés Bello and 3rd transversal. Edif. Las Flores, Los Palos Grandes
The large salad bar has cheese, international dishes, and Brazilian treats. The grilled meat selection includes generous portions of beef, lamb, and ribs brought right to the table on long skewers.
In order to stop the flow of waiters bringing meat to the table, each diner is assigned a little ‘traffic light.’ These little cylindrical blocks of wood are painted the colors of a traffic light. Put the green side up to encourage the waiters to keep bringing food, or turn it on its side for a pause. By placing the red side up, you indicate you’ve had your fill.
It’s a bit pricey, but for meat lovers – and lovers of large quantities of food – it’s a superb choice.
By Karen P. Attman