There isn't much about the drab interior of the Ravenswood Venezuelan restaurant Bienmesabe that commits itself to memory. At least that's true until you make your way toward the restrooms at the rear of the dining room, where you'll be confronted by a wall of fame bearing the signatures of 18 Venezuelan-born Major League baseball players (and 2013 Miss Venezuela Migbelis Castellanos).
Maybe word got out through the recommendation of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who has gone on record a few times in support of the place—but in its short life span, Bienmesabe has become the spot for quintessential Venezuelan comida, like the national dish pabellón
(shredded beef, beans, and plantains), chup
e (corny, creamy shrimp soup), and of course, arepas. The pudgy, hand-formed corn cakes are served plain or split and stuffed with a variety of matter like black beans and cheese (the Domino), roasted pork (the After Party), chicken avocado salad (the Reina Pepiada, or "Voluptuous Queen," named for the Venezuelan winner of the 1955 Miss World pageant).
At Bienmesabe, the jumbo arepas rellenas
require a significant mandibular aperture. Case in point: the pabellón, which is bursting with shredded flank steak, beans, queso blanco, and ripe plantains that add some sweetness to balance the salty flesh. It's a gut-buster in the most positive sense, but the crispy, chewy exterior tends to put up enough dental resistance that some spillage will occur, so don't abandon your fork. There are ten more or less classic arepas on hand, but there's also a build-your-own option if you feel you've got something over the standards.
Another interesting item on the menu is the patacon,
about which I've previously questioned its possible antecedency
to the jibarito. At the very least there is a coincidental resemblance: a flattened and griddled green plantain sandwiching shredded beef, chicken, or pork, with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. And like a few items on the menu here, there's an affection for mayo, which shows up atop the regular tostones appetizer. Unlike the jibarito, there's no pretension that this is a handheld sandwich. It's plated with a cheffy care that extends across a fairly broad menu, including fish steak a la meuniere
, linguine Bolognese, burgers, hot dogs, ceviche, flan, and uncommon Venezuelan drinks like chicha
, a powerfully sweet and thick rice-based milkshake that comes in an optional 32-ounce cup, if you have a major-league thirst.
The wall of fame at Bienmesabe
Bienmesabe, 1637 W. Montrose, 773-549-5538