Dining From 'La Isla Bonita' Coming To Belmont
Cuban-immigrant residents set to open a café serving cuisine typical of the Caribbean island.
Some cooks believe in sharing all the ingredients to a recipe and others hold their unique formula's for a dish closely.
For Adolfo De La Vega, one of the owners of the soon-to-be-opened Gustazo Café, some gastronomic skills should stay a secret.
“Everyone has their own Cuban recipe. The base is the same but everyone has their special secrets,” said De La Vega careful not to reveal the special “something” in his mojo criollo sauce that dresses the bread of pan con lechon, a traditional pork roast sandwich with an extra crunchy layer of skin.
This summer Belmontonians can turn their taste buds onto a Latin food experience and give their senses a chance to ponder “what is that made of.”
De La Vega and his wife Patricia (Pah-tree-see-ah) Estorino went before the Zoning Board of Appeals Monday night and received approval for their plans to operate the cafe at 289 Belmont St., the location of the recently closed of Select Café.
The final step in bringing a little bit of Havana to Belmont entails going before the Board of Selectmen for a common victualer's license. The couple is confident that the town will grant them final approval for the to-be-named Gustazo Café.
“When we went before the Restaurant Review Committee everyone was really excited about it,” said Estorino.
When they moved to Belmont from Cambridge four years ago, they were a bit astonished at how lacking Latin cuisine was here and in the surrounding area. The strip of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road is mostly dotted with coffee and pizza shops. The town is does not have an establishment that serves Mexican food, a cuisine that has become a staple in the diets of many Americans.
“We had been thinking for years to open a restaurant, but at first we did not have the budget to do it. And when we moved to Belmont we saw there were no Spanish or Latin American restaurants. So we thought this could be something very good or very bad,” De La Vega said jokingly.
In their hometown of Havana, Cuba, both had substantial careers in the performing arts. De La Vega played the clarinet for 11 years in the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba.
Estorino studied ballet under the founder of the National Ballet of Cuba, Fernando Alonso, and later performed modern dance with the Contemporary Dance Company of Cuba.
They were presented an opportunity to come to the United States approximately 10 years ago, when De La Vega received a scholarship for post graduate studies a the Longy School of Music in Cambridge.
Coming to America
Once here, each wanted to continue their careers in the arts but found that opportunities to make a substantial living in their fields did not abound here as they did in Cuba. De La Vega eventually founded a construction business and Estorino while she did initially perform with Boston dance companies, chose to instruct others in ballet and modern dance.
Now that they were more secure in their new life here, they seriously considered pursuing their idea to open a restaurant.
“We were looking for place when we found this location,” said De La Vega. “Were driving around town and we saw the sign for rent, so we said, 'wow.'” The owner of the building is also one of the 200 residents that signed a petition in support of their endeavor.
The couple both share roots in the tradition of good food. Estorino's family owned a restaurant in Havana for several decades.
“I grew up in that environment and I worked in the restaurant,” she said.
While De La Vega's family does have a professional culinary background, his family as well as himself are committed to executing satisfying dishes.
“We both have good counselors (in the area of cooking). In my family it is typical to cook,” said De La Vega.
Rice, beans and roasted pork
In Cuba usually the whole family gathers on Sunday at the grandparents house for the social event of eating. They explained that dishes included rice and beans and, of course, roast pork, one of the main foods of the Caribbean island.
Together they have comprised a menu of other traditional foods and luscious fruits that are reminders of the island's past inhabitants which have Cuban food. They want to provide traditional cuisine with a modern twist.
Papas Bravas & Eggs, diced potatoes with garlic, pepper and thyme served with eggs and toast are from Spain. And American classics like eggs and bacon and even a hamburger made cuban style with a mix of pork and beef.
“Many dishes have garlic, onions, green and bell pepper, cumin,” said Estorino.
“Cuban food is spicy, not hot spicy, but it is highly marinated foods with lots of spices or condiments for flavor.”
Besides chickpeas fritters and fried plantains coddling shredded beef or pork, the restaurant will have a coffee bar with café con leche, coffee milk great on its own or with the traditional Cuban bread, and drinks that include coconut smoothie, guava juice and Malta, a brewed soda.
There will also be seafood, such as lobster salad with avocado and options for vegetarians with avocados, corn or garbanzo beans as the base ingredient.
At the moment the café will probably be open for breakfast and lunch, and given the current menu moderate prices.
They are sourcing food from nearby farms and markets when possible, and are trying to avoid processed ingredients.
“We are trying to buy everything from local markets, and it is a bit more expensive but it is worth it,” said De La Vega.
They have found that some fruits are either not available here in whole form, and so they have to purchase the frozen pulp for some of the drinks and juice for some marinades. The two have said that they are still considering if it will be economically possible to provide organic ingredients, specifically the meats, however they will buy the best quality product when feasibly possible.
The remodeling of the space will begin shortly after Board of Selectmen approval and they plan to be open in July.