With Kelley McLaughlin.
Orinoco Harvard Square
56 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge
We'd heard many good things lately about Orinoco, a Latin kitchen inspired by "taguaritas," rustic, family-run eateries found along Venezuelan roadsides, so we decided to drop by and check their array of Venezuelan and Latin American cuisines for ourselves.
Orinoco has three Boston locations: South End, Brookline Village, and Harvard Square. The Harvard Square location is tucked away behind a sweet little recessed archway under the trees, so, even before entering, we were immediately struck by the intimate and inviting atmosphere. Inside, the decor was tastefully done, with a mix of folk art and family photography adorning the walls. The dim lighting and soft music in the background set the perfect mood for a relaxed dining experience, and we immediately agreed that it looks like a great spot for a date. Especially if you sit out on the lovely outdoor patio.
The menu is digital and a bit disordered, but offers an enticing array of dishes. On the vegetarian side of things, most of the exciting options are some combination of carb and cheese. We ordered Maracuchitos ($7.75), Arepa La Gringa ($6.75), Arepa Jardinera ($7), Cachapa ($15) and Torta Fluida ($7).
The Maracuchitos – queso Paisa wrapped in sweet fried plantains – were wonderful. The plantains were soft and lush but had lovely chewy edges. The combination of the creamy salty cheese and the sweet and tangy plantains created a flavor explosion. One of us doesn't usually like plantains, but loved this dish.
Arepa La Gringa:
The Arepa La Gringa was stuffed with shredded, unmelted edam cheese. To our taste both the filling and the bread were a bit dry, and there was nothing really to marry the one with the other. The Arepa Jardinera also features cheese, as well as sweet plantains, and guasacaca, which is a tangy avocado sauce. The individual elements were fine, but altogether the combination was not cohesive.
The Cachapa, which we ordered with only the queso de mano, was the unexpected (but nevertheless deserving) favorite food item. This is a tender sweet corn pancake overflowing with melted queso de mano. More sweet than you are probably thinking right now, though not overwhelmingly so, and certainly not dessert sweet. The slight saltiness of the handmade cheese really underlines that sweetness and makes it shine. For this dish alone, we would visit again.
For dessert, we split a Torta Fluida, a molten chocolate cake, which the menu boasts is made with "100 percent Venezuelan dark chocolate." This adorable individual cake came to us piping hot. It had a beautifully light crumb and was absolutely brimming with melted dark chocolate. Dark chocolate was such an excellent choice for this cake, as it cuts the sweetness and gives it more depth of flavor. Thus our meal ended on a high note.
While most of the dishes we ordered hit the mark, in the end, Orinoco left us with mixed feelings. While we had high expectations for the arepas, they felt like a miss compared to the other options, and the service was somewhat slow and inattentive. But while the experience had its ups and downs, we definitely appreciated the restaurant's charm, the cachapa, and the chocolate cake.
Review from the Independent Review Crew.