Venga Gastrobar

In Spanish the word venga has several meanings, but loosely translated it means ‘come on.’  In the markets here in Cuenca, the meaning of the word venga when used by the merchants has a more profound, and almost endearing, meaning.  Because the merchants genuinely want to serve you and make you feel welcome, they use the word venga as an inviting way to get your attention so you will come and try, or see, whatever it is they are selling.  It is for this reason that Javier Patiño named his restaurant Venga.   Welcome is exactly how you will feel when you enter Javier’s Venga Gastro Bar.  Although a little challenging to find, it is well worth the effort.

Javier graduated from Cordon Bleu in Lima, Peru and earned his Chef Instructor certificate as well.  From there he went to work at Lima’s best restaurant, Central.  Central was recently voted the best restaurant in Latin America and 4th in the world by The World’s 50 Best (www.theworlds50best.com).  Javier then went to Spain and worked for two of the top restaurants there, Martín Berasategui, (Michelin 3-star rated) in San Sebastián, and Coque (Michelin 2-star rated) in Madrid.  In short, Javier perfected his trade at two of the finest restaurants in the world.

“But, can he cook?” you might be wondering.  That is like asking if Michael Jordan can play basketball or if Tiger Woods can play golf.  But using the word ‘cook’ somehow just doesn’t do justice to the food that emerges from Venga’s kitchen.

I was fed until I couldn’t eat any more.  Even though I was given small tasting portions of each item, I think I tried just about everything on the menu, which is small so it can be changed regularly (every three months).  For an appetizer, I had the Aceitunas Maceradas & chips.  It was a bowl of olives and chips, with onions and ham, served with four different sauces.  Like everything at Venga, the chips are homemade and they are delicious.  The Seafood Tsunami was well named – copious amounts of seafood served in a delightful sauce in a small piping hot skillet.   Javier told me the entrees are served in a regular sized cast-iron skillet because he believes the food tastes better prepared in cast-iron, and stays hotter longer served right out of the pan.  He is right – my food was not only delicious, but stayed hot from the first bite to the last.

Earlier I mentioned the word “cook” seemed inappropriate for Javier’s food.  The word I was looking for is Magic.  In one short year (Venga is about to celebrate its first year anniversary), Javier’s food has earned him the impressive number 26 spot on Trip Advisor out of 360 restaurants rated.  His average rating is 5 stars and I can comfortably say after eating there, he deserves every single one of them.  To celebrate the first year anniversary, Javier is hosting two other chefs in a “pop-up”, where they will showcase six unique dishes for their guests.

In addition to the restaurant, Javier is also launching a cooking school.  He will host three-hour classes where people can come with friends, learn to cook a full meal, and then eat it afterward.  For a small fee of $30 per class, this additional service is sure to become as popular as his restaurant.  So if you are in the mood for an out-of-this-world dining experience, Venga will not disappoint.

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