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Have you ever eaten Venezuelan food? There are hundreds of Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles and a few Argentinean eateries. Peruvian restaurants are a popular destination right now, but where can you find authentic Venezuelan food?
Recently, while in Beverly Hills, I discouvered the cuisine of Venezuela at Coupa Cafe. On a first visit, I was greeted by the owner, Camelia Coupal, a young and attractive woman. She guided me and my guests to a comfortable table. The café has a large outdoor patio in the front, however we admired the high California bow truss ceiling and tropical feeling inside, and opted to sit indoors.
While inquiring about the tiny tiles on the flooring, Coupal shared that they were hand painted by a friend in Venezuela. Since I was inquisitive about her cafe, she asked if I would like a tour of her restaurant. In the back of the restaurant near the large bar, is a cozy sitting area with large pillows, a roaring fireplace and flat-screen television. Upstairs is a private room that looks down on the café. “We host book club lunches and business meetings up here,” Coupal said. The walls throughout the café are painted a warm yellow and a pretty sweet potato hue. “We have been in the restaurant business for over 30 years, we painted the walls ourselves,” Coupal said.
As a junior at Stanford University (her brother and sister are also Stanford alumni), Coupal and her family opened their first Coupa Café in Palo Alto, California. “We were next to the first Facebook office. Mark Zuckerberg came in often for our coffee and food,” Coupal said. Since it was a huge success in the area, they opened additional cafes on the Stanford campus.
The family opened this location in Beverly Hills in 2006. “My mother and father met while attending UCLA and wanted to share the flavors of Venezuela with Los Angeles,” Coupal said.
“We make a great cup of Venezuelan coffee,” Coupal added. Her father lives in Venezuela and works with a single estate coffee grower. The beans are handpicked; sun dried and then roasted in small batches to bring out the sweet and savory flavors. It’s vacuum-sealed and sent to the United States.
“In the movie, ‘The Social Network’, our coffee cups with Coupa Café are seen in the film,” Coupal said. When I asked if they paid for the product placement, Coupal said, “No, Zuckerberg really likes our coffee.”
Looking over the two-page menu, my friends and I noticed that it focuses on Venezuelan cuisine with Mediterranean, Italian and French influences.
For lunch, a good dish to try if you’ve never tasted Venezuelan food, is the Degustacion plate. It’s a colorful sampler plate that is fun to share with two to four friends. The dish is often served at parties in Venezuela with wonderful dipping sauces. I enjoyed the sweetness of the maracuchitos, which is fried cheese wrapped in plantains. I also liked the ground beef empanadas and the mini corn griddle pancakes with fresh queso de mano (white cheese). It looks like pats of butter on the little corn cakes. The flavors of these petite bites are enhanced with three sauces that accompany the dish. The guasacaca is avocado based, like a Venezuelan guacamole. The red picante trujillano has a spicy kick to it and the salsa de ajo is like a garlic aioli.
Next, we tried the arepas. They are wheat and gluten-free tasty treats. My favorite was the reina pepiada filled with white shredded breast of chicken, avocado and mayonnaise. It looks like a pita sandwich, yet is made with white cornmeal. The vegetarian arepas are filled with grilled eggplant, caramelized onions and heirloom tomatoes. Both were served with a green leaf salad.
In Venezuela they pack empanadas for picnics at the beach. They also eat them for breakfast. Spanish empanadas are different, because they are baked. At Coupa Café they are fried and served with Venezuelan white cheese, carne with black beans, cheese and plantains or chicken or ground beef. ”We tried other cheeses, like mozzarella, yet it melts and oozes out. The Venezuelan cheese stays firm and is the best,” Coupal said.
The last authentic dish we ordered was polvorosa de pollo. It’s a Venezuelan version of a chicken pot pie. The crust is made with raw sugar cane pulp. “It’s not doughy. Our guests love this crust,” Coupla declared.
It arrived with a side salad. The sweet crust is scrumptious and layered with shredded chicken, leeks, feta cheese and olives. I loved it.
Coupal encouraged us to try one more dish, the Pabellon, which is the National dish. “It’s staple food the poor people eat. Black beans, rice, shredded beef and sweet plantains, with corn arepitas. It’s presented on a platter beautifully. “Venezuelan food is not spicy like other countries, yet filled with delicious flavors,” Coupal said.
We finished with a demitasse of piquant hot chocolate with a touch of cayenne and chili pepper that tingles your throat as it glides down.
Come listen to the sounds of Venezuela while enjoying the essence of food from a country located on the northern coast of South America. $$ Hours are Sun. through Tues. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Wed. through Sat. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. 419 N. Canon Dr. (310)385-0420.
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