Jojoto, a Venezuelan restaurant and bar
Last weekend, we took our taste buds on a Latin culinary adventure and attended a food blogger event at Jojoto (pronounced “hohoto,” meaning corn on the cob) restaurant in Branford, CT.
The petit restaurant and bar, which seats 40, is located in the beachy shoreline community and has a vibrant, high-energy, Latin-infused locale for authentic Venezuelan dishes. Venezuelan food is very flavorful and has a lot of European influences (especially Italian, French and Spanish).
Victor and Nicola Figueroa opened the restaurant in early August. Victor was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and while schooled as an accountant, he was greatly influenced by his mother’s home cooking.
The Figueroas have teamed up with chef and entertainment powerhouse Neil Fuentes, aka The Singing Chef. Also raised in Venezuela, he combines his passion for food and entertainment, which have led his popular persona, “The Singing Chef,” to appearances on Connecticut Style on WTNH, Food Network’s Chopped, Sabra Hummus’ Recipe Makeovers, and Food Channel’s Hot Spots. Together they have created a restaurant that features the cuisine both Victor and Neil grew up with in Venezuela.
Upon entering the restaurant, the warm and friendly wait staff immediately greeted us with a glass of champagne. Within in moments, a round of “Pasapalo,” which means nibbles or appetizers in Venezuelan, began circulating. The appetizers we tasted were miniature versions of Jojoto’s traditional food items.
The passed appetizer selection included a variety of empanadas and arepas. Empanadas are a deep fried corn patty most commonly stuffed with cheese or meats. Arepas are the most popular Venezuelan dish and considered a staple in the culture. These corn cakes, which can be baked, fried or grilled, are split and filled with cheese or meats.
We were asked to take our seats and true to his stage name, Chef Neil Fuentes serenaded us by singing the Bobby Darin popular 1950’s song “Mack The Knife.” He has a wonderful voice! It was such a treat.
After his performance, he explained his background and cooking style. He then showed us how to make one of Jojoto’s best selling appetizers – a Toston.
A toston is a plantain fried twice. It can be eaten as a snack of side dish.
Chef Fuentes explained how this dish smells like vacation to him. As a kid, his family would rent a house at the beach for a month and they would eat toston with coleslaw. The version he prepared in the demonstration was topped with shrimp and a light Cajun sauce.
Then Chef Neil headed into the kitchen to plate our second course, which was a sample of Jojoto’s appetizer menu. We were able to have a bird’s eye view into the kitchen through the use of the Facetime app. It was cool to see him work with the kitchen team.
The sampler plate included mini versions of Ensalada Mixta (mixed salad), Venezuelan Caprese (similar to the popular Italian dish), Venezuelan Sandwiches (a mini burger with everything including a quail egg), Toston (in the center), Mejillones (mussels) and Guacucos (clams stuffed with pasta salad). Each item was amazing!
To accompany our appetizers, Cecelia demonstrated how to prepare a passion fruit jalapeno martini.
All of Jojoto’s cocktails are made from scratch, including the infused vodkas.
The martini paired well with the appetizer sampler plate.
Chef Fuentes introduced the Platos Fuertes, which means main course. It consisted of four different entrée items.
El pabellon crillo is a simple dish typically consisting of shredded meat and black beans served over rice. It’s known as the Venezuelan national dish and Chef Fuentes explained how the dish’s ingredients correlated to the Venezuelan flag colors and stars. Chef Neil put his spin on the dish by making the meat component a short rib.
Gallinita is a dish created by Chef Fuentes. It includes citrus juices with shrimp fume and vegetables over crispy chicken with leeks and sweet plantains.
Next up was Chef Fuentes’ take on short ribs. In preparing the meat, he first sears it to lock in the flavor. Then he slow roasts it for over six hours with red pepper, onions, celery, tomato, paprika, cumin, crushed tomato and wine. The short rib is served over polenta and leeks. The dish was amazing. Everyone was savoring the flavors with every bite and gladly accepted the offer for seconds.
And if that wasn’t enough, out came the largest pan I’ve ever seen of paella
The paella was chock full of a variety of seafood and sausage – Chef Fuentes’ style.
To cap off the meal, we were treated to a dessert sampler plate that included three of Jojoto’s summertime items.
On the dessert plate was churros dusted in cinnamon sugar, tres leches with a hint of banana flavor, and coconut custard cake. The cake was one of Chef Fuentes’ mother’s recipes. He showed us a video with he and his mother making the dessert on television.
The entire Jojoto’s team made us feel like their family throughout the dining event. The team’s motto is that they are “hosting not serving” you at the restaurant, hence the family sentiment.
Jojoto’s is located at 130 Shore Drive in Branford, CT. There is a tiny parking lot (10-15 spaces) behind the restaurant otherwise there is street parking on the road prior, near the post office. Reservations are recommended, especially for Thursdays through Saturdays. The restaurant is open for dinner on Mondays thru Saturdays. It serves lunch on Tuesdays thru Saturdays. There is Sunday Brunch from 10 am to 3 pm.
If this post has tickled your taste buds for a true Venezuelan adventure, then I suggest you book your reservation now before the rest of the state gets a whiff.
Another important note: make sure you have plenty of room in your belly for your meal at Jojoto. You will savor every bite and not want to leave anything on your plate – even if you are full!
Have you ever eaten Venezuelan food? If so what’s your favorite item?
Have you ever been to a dinner where there’s also entertainment as part of the experience?
Have you seen Chef Neil Fuentes on television?
Disclaimer: While I was invited to the blogger dinner by Jojoto’s marketing team, the opinions and views expressed above are my own and describe my personal experience at the event.