According to the cafe's menu, a Zaguán "is the elaborate entry-passage in the grand old colonial homes of Venezuela, Spain and Colombia." This entryway is carefully carpeted with a pebble-stone mosaic, it adds. Indeed, the motto for this cafe is "a mosaic of tastes." And Zaguán is that, as varied and inlaid as any ceramic endeavor. In addition to empanadas, cachapas, arepas, sandwiches and salads, this cafe also has a variety of breads, cakes, pies--even eggs.
Plus coffees, Latin-inspired sodas and the most quenching pureed fresh fruit juices. But what this counter-service cafe excels in is cheese and corn. Cachapas, grilled Venezuelan sweet corn turnovers, come in a variety of incarnations from cheese, to ham and cheese, to beef, to tuna. These are weighty folds, like a cross between a taco and an omelette pumped up on creatine. They're singed to a crispy rust hue on the outside, while inside curdlike globules of cheese bond the folds before they glue to your ribs. The cheese is sweet, and our chicken enhancements were juicy and tasty.
Arepas, another extraordinarily tasty grilled corn turnover with a salty demeanor, come packed in a paper pocket, sort of resembling the hash brown cakes that can be saddled to an Egg McMuffin. We ordered the prosciutto and serrano ham combination in our pocket, though the serrano was unavailable. The house was also out of crêpes, or at least it was at dinner and breakfast. The crêpe chef comes in at lunch only, we were told. Specialization sure makes for bizarre absurdities.
It's almost easy to overlook such strange rules, because the food works so well. Puffy empanadas, yet another fried corn turnover, were crisp sheaths holding juicy bits of chicken and beef.
Yet it's possible to steer clear of this flipped corn monotony. The ham and cheese omelette is a beautifully clean yellow rectangle draped on a black ceramic plate. It's not a fluffy egg cake, but the textures are smooth and the flavors unsullied. Unlike most of the offerings here, pabellión criollo is a meal on a plate. The centerpiece is remarkably juicy, and the flavorful shreds of beef were tender. Supple and tender black beans were armed with an alluring cedary backbone (a little like sucking on a pencil, not an unpleasant culinary experience among elementary-school students).
The cafe itself is a quirky fuse of rustic flourishes (hardwood floors, ceramic tiles, stressed wood hacienda doors) and touches of modernity (serpentine display cases and sharp, angular design trim). It's warm and crisp at the same time. A lot like the corny folds infesting the menu.
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