At Pedro’s Fine Latin Cuisine in Billerica, a new offshoot of the longstanding La Casa de Pedro in Watertown, the flamboyant flavors and vibrant décor are enough to take the chill off even the coldest winter night.
While Latin often means Mexican in restaurant-speak, you’ll be disappointed if you show up craving burritos and enchiladas. Pedro’s fare is Venezuelan, with strong Caribbean flavors. The vibe is so festive and unconventional you’ll feel transported to a destination far south of snowbound New England.
It’s been a while since I’ve had Venezuelan food, making Pedro’s fare a revelation. The menu is big on seafood, with beef and pork in supporting roles. The piquant flavors of plantain, lime, cilantro, and coconut hit all the right taste buds.
The appetizers are labeled tapas, but these dishes are a bit pricey (and/or small) to create a meal by themselves.
The ceviche ($10.25) was outstanding, a tower of lime-marinated and cooked shrimp, onion, tomato, and cilantro. The presentation and taste were impressive, with the intensely fresh cilantro and lime really making the dish.
The tortilla Española ($6.50) couldn’t have been more different. A humble little pie of eggs, potato, and sautéed onion, it was the bashful little sister to the showy ceviche. I enjoyed its authenticity, even if it lacked pizzazz.
Elsewhere on the appetizer menu, the tequeños ($8.75), described as Venezuela’s most popular hors d’oeuvre, were small, lightly fried pastries containing a mild cheese. Like the tortilla, the flavors were perfectly agreeable, if muted.
My least favorite starter was the arepas ($6), a flat-grilled corn cake with chicken and avocado filling. The overall effect was of chicken salad on an English muffin, but the chilly filling made the dish clammy.
All the entrees I tried were tasty, but the seafood steals the show.
The bacalao a la Ozzy Guillen ($20) — the name refers to the Venezuelan-born baseball player and
The camarones tropicales de Kristofer involves shrimp artfully presented in half a coconut shell, doused with a wonderful orange-coconut sauce. My only quibble was that this $19.25 entrée featured a somewhat paltry seven or eight shrimp.
Other dishes were less showy but no less tasty. The pabellon criollo ($18), described on the menu to be “the most traditional Venezuelan dish,’’ was homespun, consisting of shredded beef slowly simmered with finely chopped vegetables.
The chuleta de Pedro ($17) was described as a cut of pork loin sautéed with peppers, onions, and white wine. This huge portion of two pork chops was a delicious, if simple, dish.
Most entrees are served with fried yucca and plantains. The plantains were incredible — tender and cooked just to the point of caramelization. The yucca was more variable, ranging from perfectly crisped to a tad mushy and starchy.
Pedro’s dessert menu consists primarily of various flavors of flan ($6). I was partial to the coconut variety, finding the chocolate version more like a mousse that lacked the eggy, caramel flavors so essential to a sublime flan.
The drinks list is extensive and expensive. Wanting to keep the tab for two with tip under $100, we resisted the temptation of a bevy of rums and mojitos.
Pedro’s may still be ironing out service issues at its new location. On our first visit, the waiter was extremely attentive, friendly, and helpful in selecting dishes.
But on a second visit, another server rolled his eyes when we asked to be moved to a quieter table, and acted like our belated decision to add empañadas to the appetizers we’d already ordered was a major imposition. He got better as time went on, but never quite overcame a sour first impression.
Inconsistent wait staff aside, the ambience is festive. Bright and upbeat, this beautiful restaurant’s décor is a perfect accompaniment to its colorful food.