Venezuelan Restaurant Pursues Appeal But Lacks Authenticity As A Result

Regina Merrill | The PHOENIXA shrimp bowl from Venezuelan Bowl Grill.

Do you ever regularly walk past a certain restaurant and intend to try it eventually, but never get around to doing so? For me, that place was Venezuelan Bowl Grill (2436 N. Lincoln Ave.) in Lincoln Park. I was in the area for a show and looking for a place to eat dinner, so I decided it was finally time to try Venezuelan food.

The interior of the restaurant was warmly lit and had ample seating for both small and large parties. A waiter was quick to lead my friend and me to a table and was happy to offer suggestions on menu items.

I chose a rice bowl so I could try a combination of different ingredients.

I ordered the pabellon bowl ($13.95), because the menu said it was the most authentic item, and my waiter said it was a must-try. Many consider pabellon criollo, which is what my bowl was based on, to be the national dish of Venezuela.

The dish came with shredded beef, steamed white rice, black beans, fried plantains, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mozzarella and parmesan, and it was topped off with “Venezuelan sauce,” which had a roasted garlic and tomato-based flavor.

My bowl was neatly presented with the ingredients separated so I could mix them together.

The shredded beef was tender and had a bit of spice, but the heat wasn’t overwhelming. The soft rice provided a good base to soak up the juices from the beef and the beans, and the mild cheese on top made the dish creamier.

I wasn’t sure where the Venezuelan sauce was — perhaps the beef had been marinated in it — but I didn’t find the bowl lacking without it.

I enjoyed the grilled plantains and the arepa, a soft corn flour bread, which came with the bowl. The plantains were caramelized and provided an interesting contrast to the other savory ingredients. The arepa was delicious. It tasted like a fluffy cornmeal pancake and was a great addition to the bowl.

There were several arepa-based menu items that I would consider ordering in the future, with toppings such as shredded chicken and beef, making for heartier meals.

My friend ordered the shrimp bowl ($13.95), which included the same ingredients as my bowl but had shrimp instead of beef. He enjoyed it because it was light and fresh, and the Venezuelan sauce, which was more noticeable in his meal, bound the ingredients together.

Although my dish was sizeable, I thought the $14 I paid for it was too much. The cost might have been inflated because the restaurant is BYOB, but in the end, most of the ingredients were what you could find in a Chipotle bowl for half the price.

Venezuelan Bowl Grill is a good option if you’re in Lincoln Park and want to try something different, but I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to dine there.

I enjoyed the food, and while there were certainly authentic items on the menu, choices such as the “chicken teriyaki bowl” and the “buffalo chicken bowl,” which aren’t Venezuelan flavors, suggested that the restaurant aims to appeal to college students more than it strives to offer only authentic dishes.

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