Orinoco

Definitely worth the wait
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  June 11, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars
orinococinside.jpg
SMOKED CHURRACSO: Flash-smoked and stacked like Lincoln Logs - unusual but enticing.

Orinoco | 617.232.9505 | 22 Harvard Street, Brookline | Open Sun, 11:30 am–3 pm and 5:30–9:30 pm; Tues and Wed, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5:30–10 pm; and Thurs–Sat, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5:30–11 pm | DI, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access
I don’t stand in lines. It’s bad for my digestion. Obviously, this becomes a problem when I review restaurants that don’t take reservations. Because of its popularity, I had to visit Toro on a Super Bowl Sunday. I still haven’t worked out how to review Orinoco in the South End, because there’s nowhere in the immediate vicinity to go if you can’t get a table. I figured the new Brookline Village branch of Orinoco might work since it’s a little larger, closer to where I live, and perhaps wouldn’t be discovered immediately. Wrong. Our first visit, at 10 pm, required a 30-minute wait. It seems that putting the new place between Pomodoro and Matt Murphy’s, two other fine restaurants that don’t take reservations, provides enough spillover to overfill Orinoco, with or without the reputation of the South End branch. At least we were able to sit down right away at 5:30 one night, and reservations are taken for lunch.

So what’s all the excitement about? Well, part of it is cheap, tasty Venezuelan street food. Another is moderately priced Nuevo Latino cuisine, from South Beach. There’s also the thrill of a small, happening place; some neat décor; enthusiastic service; and a full bar with excellent mojitos.

You must, of course, order arepas ($4.75–$5.95). These are the classic corn patties — fatter and creamier inside than Mexican tortillas — overstuffed with fillings. At Orinoco, they come with a salty garlic sauce that you’ll want for all the other dishes on the menu. If you aren’t having an arepa as an appetizer, you should order one as a side dish. The one to have is the “domino” ($5.75), which combines smoky black beans with melty white cheese. Salads are very good here, especially the palmito ($7.50), which adds shredded hearts of palm to a mix of greens, tomatoes, white cheese, and a sweet dressing. It also features three dates wrapped in bacon ($5.75 as a small plate) that are fried to produce something as rich as liver or similarly wrapped scallops.

The empanada mechada ($7.95) is a couple of arepas wrapped into pasties with shredded meat and vegetables, and arranged around quite a lot of salad (minus hearts of palm and dates). The empanada verde ($7.95) has a shell of plantain dough, which sounds enticing, but fries up greasy and overwhelms the more interesting stuffing of mushrooms and vegetables.

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