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At Teote, Latin street food gets a colorful Venezuelan twist

Bread & Brew


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Bright colors and attention to detail make the new Venezuelan restaurant Teote an exciting addition to Southeast 12th Avenue. Most of the menu is based on Venezuelan corn cakes called arepas.Teote is still a work in progress, but the essentials are in place. The back patio and the upstairs bar are still under construction, but the Venezuelan food and drinks are nailed down solid.

All but two of the appetizers on a recent menu were crossed out with a black Sharpie, but really, the censorship was in our favor. It ensured that we ordered the fried plantains, and they really shouldn’t be missed.

They’re practically melted, sweet and starchy, with edges deliciously caramelized all around. Then they’re baptized with garlic and sprinkled with salt — fairground flavors of caramel apple and garlic fries.

Most of the menu is based on Venezuelan corn cakes called arepas — they’re deep fried, but they come out almost as light as dinner rolls, with a smooth, crisp crust. Sometimes an arepa is a type of sandwich, but here, piled with juicy toppings, they are wisely served in bowls.

High quality local meat is cooked with special attention to assigning the right spices to the right cut.

Pork belly with red chili maple sauce is as good as it sounds, fatty and sweet, spicy and smoky. There are pickled onions for contrast, plus verde sauce and crumbled fresh cheese on top.

Pork is braised to shreddable tenderness with beer and vinegar, and seasoned with medium-spicy Morita chilis and cinnamon. The flavor is tingling and exotic, and the sauce saturates the arepa, which adds its sweet corn flavor to the mix without crumbling or falling apart. A bit of cabbage salad adds a fresh contrasting crunch.

The pabellón (flank steak) is also shredded, but given its own set of accompaniments: sauteed red and yellow peppers for color and a fajita-like flavor, and sturdy but very well-seasoned black beans. Smoked gouda is melted on top and oozes down through the beans and meat to the arepa at the bottom of the bowl.

With all this rich meatiness, the reina pepiada is a welcome contrast. A chilled salad of chicken, avocado and lettuce, dressed with queso fresco and lemon, tops this arepa. Unlike the meatier dishes, there wasn’t enough dressing to soak into the corn cake, which would have been nice, although they can stand on their own pretty well.

And incidentally, they’re also gluten free.

There are various bean, rice, and plantain combinations for vegetarians and vegans and kids — this is a place that wants to please everyone.

There also are a few larger meat-based platters, including an impressive beef rib special. The meat was sliced thin and grilled so that the beef flavor migrated perfectly into the fatty edges. A chili and cilantro marinade added spiciness, and the plate was heaped with rice, a little salad, some of those excellent plantains, and delicious black beans. And, of course, it also was served with arepas.

One of my friends wanted even more arepas, which proved to be a bit of a challenge. You order at a counter, and food is brought to the table with minor confusion. If you want anything else after dinner has arrived, it can take longer than the dinner itself. And I imagine many parties will be wanting more than one round of drinks.

There’s Tecate on tap, margaritas and mojitos, and vivacious agua frescas that can be spiked with rum, tequila or vodka. A mix of cucumber, lime and mint was brightly refreshing, but had too much muddled debris in it. Lavender lemonade was tart and sunny, but the star was a mixture of watermelon juice and lime that brought back memories of fresh fruit popsicles in sunny southern places.

When it’s finished, an upstairs bar will make access to multiple adult beverages a little easier. There’s also a bar with additional cooking capacity being built in the big backyard. There’s seating out back, in the main dining room, and upstairs, where some tables line a pleasant sun porch with window frames painted a brilliant red.

Bright colors are everywhere, along with many playful bits of art and craft that stop just short of kitsch. There’s a feeling of enthusiasm, combined with an attention to detail, that makes me look forward to the finishing touches.

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 1615 S.E. 12th Ave., 971-888-5281, http://www.teotepdx.com, arepas $3.50-$6, entrees $6-$16

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