Home Plate July/August 2012

Latin cuisine, wine shops and more

Latin Loves

If the aroma of South and Central American cooking sets your heart aflutter, consider yourself fortunate. In this area, you don’t have to go far for the authentic stuff. 

One notable newcomer is the 40-seat Señor Pan Bakery & Café, which specializes in flavorful handmade breads in the Colombian style. Two Capital One executives, McLean residents John Munn and Andres Vives, are partners in the venture, which opened in February near the corner of South Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike. Their mission? To introduce baked goods like the ones Vives enjoyed growing up in Barranquilla, Colombia.

“No one was doing a Colombian bakery, and [these recipes] evoke a lot of memories for me,” Vives says. “I wanted to share our food, our high-quality, soft and smooth loaves made with real butter, not shortening and lard.”

In keeping with tradition, Señor Pan’s roscon, or round bread, is filled with guava, dulce de leche or cheese. Some have plump raisins. The bakery also turns out beautiful, fruit-topped European-style cakes and pastries. But we’ll be back for the two-bite pork and beef empanadas.

Speaking of which, those empanadas aren’t the only delights we fell for during our most recent tasting tour of Latin street food. Joining them in the category of starchy doughs stuffed with savory goodness are Colombian arepas (also at Señor Pan), Bolivian salteñas, and Salvadoran pupusas. Here are a few places to grab them:


A flat, round corn cake stuffed with meat, cheese, eggs or veggies, often found on Colombian and Venezuelan menus. Try the build-your-own-arepa bar (featuring beef, chicken, pork or vegetarian fillings, plus an array of mild and spicy topping sauces) at Señor Pan. Or hit La Caraqueña in Falls Church, where you can choose among 11 types of arepas and buy a T-shirt that specifies whether your preference is grilled or fried.

Señor Pan Bakery & Café, 922 S. Walter Reed Drive, Arlington, 571-257-7016.

La Caraqueña, 300 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-533-0076, lacaraquena.com.


This football-shaped and baseball-sized baked Bolivian pastry is stuffed with a stew of chicken, beef or pork and often contains a mix of peas, potato, green olives, a hard-cooked egg and spices. Note: Some cooks fill their salteñas with a very soupy stew, which can get messy if you don’t use a plate.

Pan American Bakery, 4113 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-271-1113, www.panamerican-bakery.com.

Cinthia’s Bakery, 5037 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-314-8740; and 5860 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, 703-998-1771.

Café Sazon, 4704 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-566-1686, www.cafesazon.com.


A Salvadoran favorite, this round, pancake-sized tortilla is made with corn or rice flour, and formed around a filling of meat, cheese, beans or a combination of the three. Pupusas are cooked on a griddle or grill.

Pupuseria Doña Azucena, 71 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, 703-248-0332.


The newer, bigger Curious Grape. Photo by Amy MooreHeard Through the Grapevine

Good news for wine-lovers. There are several new proprietors around town offering both rare vintages and value-driven varietals.

Crystal City Wine Shop

The nonprofit, educational Washington Wine Academy, which hosts more than 300 private and public wine and beer events a year, has opened Crystal City Wine Shop.

President Jim Barker and director of education Alex Evans offer 500 wines from around the world, stocking everything from an Argentine Santa Julia Malbec for $7 to a California Peter Michael Winery Meritage for $100. They also stock beer, including hard-to-find craft brews. Not in stock? The pair can place a special order.

Summer Wine Pick Barker and Evans suggest a dry Saint André de Figuière rosé from Côtes de Provence 2010 ($14).

401 12th St. South at Army Navy Drive, Suite 4, Arlington, 571-312-7628, www.washingtonwineacademy.org

The Curious Grape Wine, Dine & Shop

In Shirlington, wine educator Suzanne McGrath and wine specialist Katie Park are welcoming customers to a new incarnation of The Curious Grape Wine, Dine & Shop. The 5,200-square-foot space is divided into five sections: a wine shop, a wine bar, a 55-seat dining room, a 40-seat private dining/event room and a cheese bar/pastry counter.

In addition to its selection of 300 international wines, Curious has a killer inventory of fine chocolates, as well as breakfast items like house-made English muffins and scones. For dining in, we like the kitchen’s nice selection of small plates ($13 to $17) and the fact that executive chef Eric McKamey’s entrées ($19 and $25) are available in full and half portions.

Summer Wine Pick McGrath and Park recommend a floral and crisp 2011 Torres Vina Esmeralda, a blend of Muscat and Gewurztraminer from the cool Penedes region of northeast Spain ($16).

2900 S. Quincy St., Arlington, 703-671-8700, www.thecuriousgrape.com

Grateful Red

Watch for the early-July opening of Grateful Red, a wine, cheese and gift shop brought to you by Wendy Buckley, owner of Screwtop Wine Bar (1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, 703-888-0845). “It’s going to be fun, funky and casual,” Buckley says of her new 1,500-square-foot venture in Clarendon, which is set to occupy the former Shoefly space.

Buckley plans to stock more than 400 wines, with a focus on small producers. Other shop specialties will include wine gift baskets ($30 and up), locally sourced cheeses, housewares, T-shirts and drink accessories, collected from “off the beaten path” sources.

Summer Wine Pick A 2011 Viognier from Cass Winery in Paso Robles, Calif. ($20). “It’s voluptuous and round with a lot of apricot and vibrant acidity,” Buckley says.

2727 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, www.gratefulredwine.com


Photo by Amy MooreMan vs. Rocky Road

The ongoing popularity of the Travel Channel’s food-eating challenge shows has not been overlooked by Toby Bantug, co-owner of Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream & Coffee in Westover Village.

This summer, Bantug is introducing his own brain-numbing contest: The Bucket. Individuals who dare have 15 minutes to wolf down 20 scoops of ice cream (four flavors) topped with four brownies, four chocolate chip cookies, eight cherries, nuts, gummy bears, M&M’s, sprinkles and whipped cream. Those who succeed win a Toby’s T-shirt and have their photo shot for the parlor’s wall of glory. Plus they are exempt from paying the $39.95 Bucket price.

“I love ice cream myself,” says Bantug, who operates the business with his wife, Monina. “I’ll push the limit of my own ice cream-eating capability and challenge anyone to beat it.”

Or, if your only goal is to beat the heat, stop in for one or two scoops.

Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream & Coffee, 5849-A Washington Blvd., Arlington, 703-536-7000, www.tobysicecream.com.

Categories: Food & Drink