Venezuelan arepas—soft cornmeal cakes sandwiching proteins—are the focus of chef Jorge Pimentel's menu, which is inspired by a childhood spent traveling around South America from his home in the Dominican Republic. He adds a touch of sugar to his version, which isn't customary traditional, but it compliments toppings such as tangy guajillo-braised brisket with pico de gallo and shavings of earthy garrotxa cheese. That semi-soft goat cheese also shines in the poached-chicken version that's warmed to order in chipotle adobo, sweet red peppers, and green onions. A chili-glazed tofu stuffing lacked punch and texture in comparison, and for omnivores, didn't seem worth the same $9 price tag.
The cost may seem a little steep for any arepa, but included in the order is a pile of crispy fried plantains, less-crispy yucca fries, and a dixie cup of salsa verde spiked with cooling lime aioli that's perfect for dipping (or pouring over the whole plate). Bigger appetites can opt for the smokey burger: A mix of grass-fed beef and Spanish chorizo on a rich brioche bun with manchego and, in the future, the option of a fried egg).
Sabor'a is still in training-wheels mode. "It's harder than running a restaurant kitchen," says Pimentel, who owns the operation with wife, Christine. Pimentel knows about hard work in the food industry: He went from bussing tables to cooking at the now-closed Mark and Orlando's in Dupont Circle, worked his way up from the line to sous chef at the recently shuttered CommonWealth, and opened the popular Masa 14 with chef Antonio Burrell. Parking, tough inspections, and DC potholes should feel like small bumps in the road.
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