Culture  Food for frostbite

Biting into Arepera du Plateau

My friend has frostbite. Having forked out far too many dollars on a weekend spent skiing in Mont Tremblant, the poor bastard ended up taking away just two things. Number one: that he “dresses like a [insert homophobic expletive here],” an appraisal bellowed from the balcony of your typically pleasant SnowJammer. Number two: a couple of numb, blackened toes courtesy of some faulty, “[adapt homophobic expletive here] ski boots.”

So where better to take him to warm up than Venezuela – obviously – where the temperature is currently a toe-melting 31°C? But my hopeful plans were dashed by those cold-hearted folk at The Daily who, refusing to bankroll a last minute flight, suggested I take him to Arepera du Plateau, the newish Venezuelan place on the corner of Duluth and De Bullion, to see if I couldn’t warm him up with traditional Latin American cuisine for less than $10.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about Venezuela, which is lucky for you as it keeps horrifically forced puns to a minimum, but stepping into the small-ish unit, the instant impression is one of authenticity meets gentrified cultural experience. It fits in on the plateau, where every single eatery has a tagline for your friends – even Champs, just a sports bar, has novelty value at its core. So, authentically, we have an open view of chefs baking and preparing arepas in the back, with plaintains and avocados spilling out of wooden buckets beneath the counter and chunky glass vats of colorful – dare I patronize – exotic juices on top. But in the same instant there is, framed upon the wall, an extensive and ornate rendition of the family tree of Simón Bolívar – think Latin American William Wallace but with loads and loads of genuine success. And then, just tucked in the top corner, a mocked-up lazy-man lies in a hammock enjoying a siesta, his hat pulled over his eyes while the neck of his guitar pokes off the edge. It’s a cross-over-the-threshold experience, from snowy, frostbitten Montreal to equatorial Venezuela, and it’s kinda nice – colorful juices on top

But onto the food. Essentially, an arepera is to arepas what a bakery is to bread or cinema l’amour is to…amour. Arepas themselves are a Venezuelo-Colombian thing, a kind of hefty, crunchy wrap with the mechanics of pita but closer to a baguette in the bite. They make up the bulk of the menu here with around 30 different ways of packing them full enough to fill, all for between five and nine dollars. My new-found vegetarianism, which I desperately wish to lose should any reader be willing to shoulder the burden, meant I could get a cheaper arepa – The Domino (black beans and cheese) is only $5 – with a sugar cane juice adding up to $8.50 pre tax and tip. There’s a decent selection for vegetarians and a lesser one for vegans (or “ultra vegetarianas” in Spanish), but should you want to spend a little more, Arepera du Plateau proudly caters to the omni in omnivore – wild boar and shark were the most fanciful creatures available.

The service is great. Our waiter was an extremely helpful dude who met my barrage of stale questions about heritage and history with a smile. Indeed, he was Colombian like a few other staff, but the two owners, one of whom arrived in Canada recently and the other, the chef, seventeen years ago, are both Venezuelan.

And here is the food critic’s dilemma. I don’t like Arepera. I think the bread is too sickly. I think the sugar cane juice is far too sweet. I find the fillings fall out and go all over you and burn your hands and make you look like a mal-coordinated toddler. And yet, almost everyone I know who has been there – eat in or takeaway – has come away singing about it. So, given the nice people, the integrity shown and the added variety it offers to an already diverse street, I shall put my misgivings down to personal taste and give it a hearty recommendation. As for my frostbite friend, he went absolutely Caracas for it. That’s just one pun. I’m not even sorry.