Dining Out: Casa B in Somerville
Casa B is a labor of love, a career-change project from a husband-and-wife team that ran a personal-chef business but never operated a restaurant (or even worked in one). This scenario doesn’t typically bode well for a successful start, but the results of Alberto Cabré and Angelina Jockovich’s endeavor are alluring and addictive.
Their exciting menu is rooted in the couple’s backgrounds: Cabré, the chef, is from Puerto Rico, and Jockovich is a native of Colombia. Beyond the casual places sustained by the large Brazilian communities in Allston and Somerville, Latin-American food has traditionally been severely underrepresented around here. Thankfully, that has begun to change. Orinoco led the way in 2006 with its Venezuelan-heavy pan-Latin dishes, and suddenly there’s an upscale Puerto Rican restaurant in the South End, Vejigantes (from the owners of the also-great Merengue, in Roxbury). For tapas and Spanish food, we’ve long had Somerville’s Dali, more recently the South End’s Toro and Estragon, and Tres Gatos, in J.P. But none of those restaurants has been as sleek and stylish as Casa B (both Cabré and Jockovich are trained architects).
At its best, the food here has a subtle elegance that matches the restaurant’s mostly white, minimalist interior. The staircase down to the dining room and open kitchen is lined with a series of white doors, with varying windows and patterning; above the lower-level banquettes is a “living wall” of many different plants, a coup de théâtre made possible by hidden grow lights that run along the bottom.
Cabré’s menu overlays the couple’s family recipes with a touch of international sophistication that has already attracted designers and academics to the Union Square restaurant. Their food is instructive and unique, and I want to return just to keep nibbling on the house snacks. In place of bread, Cabré and Jockovich offer little bags of fried plantain or yuca chips, so light and crisp they might have been baked. Buñuelos ($8), golf-ball-size fritters of slightly sweet Colombian farmer cheese, are accompanied by a rich, piquant roasted-pepper aioli. Shrimp “cocktail” ($10) turns out to be little butterflied shrimp in a ketchup-mayonnaise “pink sauce” that’s spooned into a deep-fried red-potato shell—a half-sphere of straight-up bar food so good that Cabré could turn it into his own version of potato skins.
The shrimp dish is an example of Cabré’s skill in filtering the traditionally rustic food of his and Jockovich’s upbringings through a refined design sensibility. Many of his flavors are clear and delicate: For instance, a trio of ceviches ($18) is served in little glass cylinders fitted into a long wooden board that is itself a piece of art. Each ceviche features a different fish with a unique blend of herbs and citrus, chosen for flavor and color: white hake has red pepper and petite green peas with lime juice; salmon is matched with orange juice and dainty mango slices; and, in the most successful version, lobster is paired with lemon juice and yellow corn kernels, with flecks of cilantro.