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May 26, 2010 12:15 PM

Pica Pica Maize Kitchen Report - Valencia St in San Francisco

A friend and I stopped in for dinner at Pica Pica last night. I'm sure it might improve, but as it stands now I don't think the food is up to San Francisco standards.

Whether they know it or not, there are several restaurants within two blocks of their location putting out more flavorful maize-based delights, all of which are cheaper, and none of which are standard Michoacan Mexican fare. True, none of them have Venezuelan Arepas

We ordered two Arepas, two beers, a trio of cheese empanadas, and a small cup of the shrimp seafood soup. The total of $40 felt somewhat high for the service level, location, and food quality. It was an adequate amount of food for two men, but not filling.

The empanadas were deep fried and pretty greasy. Something about this style of oil-soaked highly refined masa does much less for me than nice flaky buttery or lardy empanadas from other culinary traditions. Tasty, but not worth ordering again.

My Catira arepa of chicken sauteed in sofrito with cheddar was perfectly tasty, but just didn't sing. I asked for some hot sauce or salsa, and they gave me a pepper cream that tasted like chipotles blended into sour cream. The web site menu lists a Pica'Pun signature hot sauce, but either it wasn't available or the guys manning the registers decided for me that I wanted the pepper cream rather than the hot sauce I had requested. The aioli and pepper creams were both delicious, but the chicken was already pretty richly oily, and I think some tartly spicy hot sauce would have perked it up better than the rich options they gave us.

My friend's pulled pork with tomatoes, avocado, and aioli was good, but the pork didn't have much porcine depth.

The shrimp seafood soup had a very nice flavor to the broth and perfectly cooked chunks of potato, but only 3.5 small shrimp in the whole thing. I should have been charged less for it in combination with my Arepa, but I was charged full price and didn't want to make an issue out of it.

The cheddar shreds used in my Arepa were suspiciously regular in shape, and tasted like decent quality pre-shredded cheddar, not higher quality cheddar. Too bad.

Beer options were Mirror Pond or Napa Smith Brewery's Amber Ale. Both fine options, but it wouldn't hurt to have more variety.

Pica Pica Maize Kitchen
401 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. One thing that's amazing about the reviews of Pica Pica seems to be the (low) quality of the cheese (pre shredded chedder. yikes). Traveling around Venezuela I was consistently and pleasantly suprised by the varieties (in texture, saltiness, agedness) of the cheeses. It's one of the culinary items that really sticks to me about my trip there.

    Friends of mine who are from Venezuela also wax poetic about the cheese and bring it back with them whenever they can... (There are suppliers in NYC and Miami apparently).

    Why won't Pica Pica get on the Venezuelian cheese wagon. They're embarassing themselves to everyone who has tasted Venezuelan cheese and the central role it plays in the cuisine!

    1. Yep, a friend who tried the Oxbow location told me about the shredded cheddar. Does Pica Pica hollow out the inside of the arepa to leave just the thin shell?

      Fwiw, Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto (and with two locations on the Stanford campus now) sources its queso from Loleta in Humboldt County, as the closest in flavor and texture to Venezuelan-style queso blanco.

      Coupa Cafe
      538 Ramona St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

      7 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I managed to go to Coupa Cafe at Stanford but they happened to be out of the cheese that afternoon (and maybe the employees aren't all equally informed since they seemed confused to have me asking about the cheese they used).

        I hadn't thought of going back but probably will give it another go.

        Coupa Cafe
        538 Ramona St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

        1. re: boris_qd

          Coupa's online Palo Alto menu for the arepas indicates Loleta for the white cheese. The last time i ate there, the owner was checking on tables on a very busy night and I asked him whether that meant Loleta in Humboldt County. He said that was the best substitute he's found. The yellow cheese (queso amarillo) is listed as Dutch Edam.

          I guess Pica Pica is using cheddar as a stand-in for queso amarillo.

          Coupa Cafe
          538 Ramona St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          Yeah, I think the arepa was hollowed out. The whole thing was pretty good, just not as good as it could or should be.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Wow, either I'm not that picky or this place has improved a lot in a few months, cause this weekend my husband and I ate there and then went back again the next day for lunch! Both times I had the pernil, pork, tomatoes, and avocado, once as a cachapa (big corn pancake) and once as a maize-wich (two rounds of sweet corn cake). Both times, out of sight! Maybe I was happy because I didn't try the cheese? On the side, a cup of literally the best hot chocolate I have ever had. Literally! It was like a melted good quality chocolate bar melted in a cup. Whoa.

            1. re: pointybird

              i went about 3 months ago and loved it too, so don't doubt yourself! i'm kicking myself for having stayed away for so long, especially since i have a two for one coupon they gave us last time!

              1. re: pointybird

                Are they griddling the corn cake items to order now or are they still premade and reheated? The half life is short and qualtiy falls off fast. I don't notice anyone talking about the quality of the arepa base, cachapa or corn cake itself, mostly the fillings. But if you liked it, can't argue with that. The hot chocolate sounds wonderful.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Hmmmm I must say I didn't notice, sorry. They tasted fresh and hot and we went during busy times both times, so I guess we got good ones.