Friday, March 2, 2012

Barrio: Cuban Street Food Pop-Up

While some argue that pop-up dinners are passé or pointless, I think there's something irresistible about the spontaneity and ephemeral nature of them. Events like this give chefs a chance to really experiment and take chances. If things don't go well, it's not like the reputation of a brick-and-mortar establishment is at stake; it's just one small dinner in the grand scheme of things. If it does go well, it's a fleeting experience that guests will never forget. It can pop up again at some other time or some other place, or it can just be left as a memory.

When I received a mysterious invitation to a preview of Chef Wheeler del Torro's newest pop-up venture, Barrio, a celebration of Cuban street food, I couldn't resist setting out on a rare snowy evening to attend. Out of respect for the nature of the event, which will be popping up again, open to the public, I won't reveal anything about the location.

After reading somewhat vague previews on Eater and UrbanDaddy, I really had no idea what to expect. Will it be vegan? (Partly. But a chef friend of Wheeler's supplemented the meal with some fabulous pork, which lent a to-die-for aroma to the whole secret place.) Will Ice-T make an appearance? (No. Not this time, anyway.) Will we have to help with prep work? (Yes. There was some chopping involved.)

Del Torro is somewhat of an enigma; his bio speaks of pop-up dinners and underground parties around the world. People who have met him speak of his handfuls of celebrity friends. He has authored a vegan ice cream cookbook and owns a frozen dessert company. At this event, he quietly worked with his team, bringing out plate after plate of Cuban-inspired treats, speaking rarely - and usually only to push more champagne on us. Fabulous champagne, I should add.

The space was small, but the food was plentiful, and we all left full and happy...and probably quite tipsy. My favorites: the spicy corn on the cob (shown above), the plantains, and the juicy pork, rolled up in a soft tortilla. And, of course, the ice cream. We tried dishes of wild blueberry goat cheese ice cream as a palate cleanser after salad, and for dessert, we sampled a number of other flavors. In a small piece of serendipity, beans were inadvertently left off of only my plate; since I hate beans, this was perfectly lucky! Not everything was perfect; I wasn't a fan of the vegan chicken, and the rice seemed poorly cooked, but the overall experience was thrilling.

According to Eater Boston, Barrio will take place again - open to the public, this time - on March 8th. Find out the details here.

Here are some photos from the event:

Disclosure: This event was a special blogger preview; the food and drinks were complimentary. I was under no obligation to write about the event, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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