Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jojoto Restaurant - Modern Venezuelan Dining in Branford CT

Social Media Sampling

This week we stayed local in our very own Branford CT and strolled down to the Short Beach area of town to visit Jojoto, a Venezuelan Restaurant, that features a modern take on traditional Venezuelan classics.

Jojoto, pronounced ho-ho-toe, opened in late August 2014 to rave reviews!

The restaurant is owned and operated by Victor Figuero and his wife Nichola. Victor, originally of Caracas Venezuela, longed for the food of his native country, and together with his lovely wife knew that the only way they would satisfy this urge was to take the plunge and open up their very own restaurant. They sought out and found an executive chef with an equal passion in Venezuelan-born Neil Fuentes, known as The Sensational Singing Chef.

Chef Fuentes is known locally for his frequent appearances on Connecticut Style, and nationally for his Food Network feature on Chopped.

On this visit we sampled some of Chef Fuentes specialties and Victor and Nichola were able to join us for a fabulous dinner that focused on just what the Fiquero's envisioned in their restaurant's conception, an entertaining and fun gathering place, highlighted by interesting conversation, hearty laughter, storytelling and song, and, of course, great food and drink.

Let's start with the drink!

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by Savannah, with a tall flute of prosecco, and owners Nichola and Victor, who warmly welcomed us into their home away from home, Jojoto!

welcome to jojoto
Savannah, Nichola and Victor

Our first course, or "Pasapalo", started with a wide variety of the appetizers, passed butler style, available on the menu in the form of empanadas (chicken, beef, and rice & bean), arepas (beef, cheese, and reina pepiada), and more!

Pasapalo at Jojoto
Pasapalo at Jojoto

Before beginning our next course, Chef Neil Fuentes surprised us in true Singing Chef style, with a rousing rendition of Mack the Knife! What a greeting!!!

Click the arrow below to play.

Chef Fuentes is the consummate performer, and, in addition to serenading us with song, he also treated us to a live demonstration of his Toston preparation.

Jojotos Chef Fuentes prepares Toston
Chef Fuestes prepared Toston in a live demonstration

Our second course, the starters or "Entradas" consisted of a sample of some of the many items that appear or will appear on the menu. Chef Fuentes notes that the menu will change seasonally in accordance to flavors of the season and availability. We sampled Ensalada Mixta, Venezuelan Capresse, Venezuelan Sandwiches, Toston, Mejillones,  and Guacoucos

Entradas / Starters at Jojotos
Entradas / Starters at Jojotos
Ensalada, Venezuelan Capresse, Venezuelan Sandwiches, Toston, Mejillones, Guacoucos
Here's a short description of some of the items we sampled.

Ensalada Mixta: Chef Fuentes' mom's "go to" salad which taught her children to eat veggies in their original form, with hints of dressings used to enhance flavors. Comprised of potato, carrots, beets, tomato, qual egg and bacon, with a light orange honey vinaigrette.

Venezuelan Capresse:  Homemade cheese, tomato, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Venezuelan Sandwaches: (a) La hamburguesa con todo which translates to the burger with everything. Beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, ham, coleslaw, potato chips, sauces and an egg. and (b) A simple Pork Sandwich with homemade coleslaw and Perrill.

Toston: Small toasted bread topped with Shrimp and a light cajun sauce.

Mejillones (Mussels): Choritos a la chalaca, a mussel stuffed with a ceviche style salad.

Guacucos (Clams): Pasta con Guacoccos, a modern version of Chef Fuentes' mom's classic recipe.

Before moving on to our main course, I must mention some of my favorites from the incredible cocktails I sampled, all made with fresh ingredients. The star of the show, prepared and explained by Ceceila (also from Venezuela) was the Passion Fruit and Jalapeno Martini. For those who desire a more 'relaxing' cocktail, I heartily recommend the Lavender and Lime Martini.

Jojoto Cocktails 

Ceceila had an interesting story about Jojoto and explained that as she drove by the restaurant prior to its opening she spotted the "Coming Soon - Jojoto Restaurant" sign. Because Jojoto, which translates to corn on the cob, is a phrase or translation traditionally used only by Venezuelans, she too was excited to be involved with the foods, culture, and philosophy of her native country. Needless to say, she immediately applied and is an integral part of the Jojoto extended family.

Just say ho-ho-toe

And while Chef Fuentes worked his magic behind the scenes, Savannah entertained us with the song from her audition that landed her the position at Jojotos.

You read that right folks --- every single applicant must prepare a reading or song to perform as part of the application process for Jojoto. You see, Victor, Nichola, and Chef Neil understand that part of the dining experience is in entertaining your customers, just as you would entertain them at home, setting a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Click the arrow below to hear Savannah sing "Where The Boys Are"

For our main course, Platos Fuertes, we sampled El Pabellon Criollo, Gallinta, Short Ribs, and Paella.

The El Pabellon Criollo is a traditional Venezuelan dish, prepared with simple ingredients that pack a flavorful and comforting punch, white rice, black beans, shredded beef, and sweet plantains.

Jojoto El Pabellon Criollo
Jojoto - El Pabellon Criollo

The Gallinta is pure Fuentes ingenuity, combining citric juices with shrimp fume and vegetable over a crispy chicken, with leeks and plantains to round out the flavors.

Jojoto - Gallinta

Next was an incredible Short Rib dish served over polenta.  This dish was so good that we asked for seconds!

Jojoto - Short Rib over Polenta

And, our final dinner item was Chef Fuentes' take on Paella, a rustic Spanish-influenced rice dish prepared with saffron, mussels, clams, shrimp, chicken and chorizo.

Chef Fuentes and his Paella

And it wasn't over yet! We saved room for dessert, or dulce, having a delicious Tres Leches, Coconut Custard Cake, and Churros.

Jojoto - Dessert
Tres Leche, Coconut Custard Cake, Churros

Favorites of my evening were the empanadas, the Shrimp Toston, the El Pabellon Criollo, and the Short Rib and Polenta.

Dessert? Hands down the Coconut Custard Cake. Order it while it's still on the menu!

All the flavors of Chef Fuentes foods were wonderful and were only enhanced by the hospitality and community we experienced at the Figueroa's restaurant. It is truly a home away from home for them, and it will be for you too, as you experience the comforting flavors and cultural foods of Venezuela.

The Jojoto Family

Our thank you to the entire Figueroa family and their amazing family of staff for welcoming us into their "home".

Jojoto Modern Venezuelan Restaurant

130 Shore Drive Rd

Branford CT 06405


Follow them on Twitter: @JOJOTOBranford

Follow them on Instagram: @jojotorestaurant

Jojoto, Modern Venezuelan Cuisine on Urbanspoon 

Disclaimer: We were invited to this menu sampling by members of Jojoto's public relations and management team. However, all opinions are our own.

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