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Pica Pica Maize Kitchen
Chef Adriana López Vermut was not the first of her family to open a restaurant. She may not have even been the second, actually. A long tradition of good cooking wraps around around her family tree, bestowing her with a slew of Venezuelan traditions and recipes to draw upon at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen.
Chef López Vermut founded Pica Pica in Napa with her father, a restaurateur in Caracas who carries the distinction of being one of the founders of Venezuela’s slow food movement. With these two seasoned cooks at the helm, the restaurant became a hit, eventually expanding to another location in the Mission district. By the time this second spot opened, the buzz was already rampant, specifically for the handmade Venezuelan arepas, which many describe as stuffed corn pockets. Many locals flock to the restaurant for the pabellón arepa in particular, which the cooks make with shredded steak, fried plantains, crumbled cheese, and black beans. The dish even earned the adoration of Guy Fieri, who, after taking a bite of the signature arepa on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, described it as “Outrageous!” The pabellón isn’t the only star of the show, though—the restaurant also serves other stuffed creations, including empanadas and cachapas.
Try This: Venezuelan Arepas at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen
The Venezuelan arepa at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen is hard to classify—it may look like a sandwich, but theres more to it than meets the eye. Jonathan Kauffman of _SF Weekly describes this culinary anomaly as such: “A thick, soft corn cake, split like an English muffin and filled with almost anything, including cheese and vegetables, the arepa is the platypus of handheld foods—belonging to both the sandwich and the tortilla-pupusa classes.”
To start, the cooks blend masa harina (ground corn), water, and vegetable shortening by hand. Once they form the resulting dough into disc-shaped cakes, they throw them on the griddle to form an outer crust, being careful to maintain the dough’s soft and creamy interior. The cooks then transfer the cakes to the grill to lend them flame-licked marks and to unleash the natural sweetness of the corn flour. Finally, they slice them and stuff the inside with everything from tofu to braised meat and plantains. The resulting flavor can be sweet, savory, tangy, or spicy—or all of those at once, depending on what you order.