I’m not a morning person. When the East Bay Express’s Luke Tsai asked me if I was available for a tiny interview in the morning, I obliged. I tried not to stammer too much the next morning while he asked me questions about my little nothing in the apartment of a secret location where I’d be cooking. I was my usual self filled with sailor vernacular. My mother would not approve. The importance and the acumen for this Puerto Rican supperclub came across and the one and only other example of Puerto Rican food in the east bay was compared, “That’s what the guys at Borinquen Soul said,” when I mentioned the only place to get culantro was the Southeast Asian markets. I’m grateful for Luke’s phone call and his interest, truly. I’m thankful that anyone would grace me with their ear or presence, sit down at my table and eat my food. And pay for it! This isn’t coming from a place of “undervaluing” myself or having low self-esteem – a certain demographic keeps informing me that I embody both of these things – this is coming from humility and being humble. Maybe it’s a Latino thing. The world owes us nothing. And sometimes, even hard work doesn’t give you the break you think you deserve.
They started showing up after 5PM, Servsafe in eyeshot for everyone to see. It took no time for me to bring out their piña coladas, not on the menu, and little empanadas filled with picadillo and bacalaitos (codfish fritters). I was busy in the kitchen with final touches and deciphering course timing by the din of voices spilling out from the dining room; quiet means eating, laughter means a few more minutes before the next course. By the time everything came to an end, almost an hour and a half had passed. People spilled back out and I collapsed into a chair and woke up an hour later.
Over the next few days, I felt unfulfilled. Like, the whole thing was missing something. I had asked for feedback; genuine honesty and for diplomacy to be pushed aside. No one had anything to say but positive remarks. How often are people you’ve never met in your life going to be completely honest with you? Haha. The goal now is to get someone in the dining room that gives the feedback I need before I decide to take over the Mission space this autumn.
It took a while to convince people to come out to the east bay and pay to eat in a tiny hidden location. Eventually, both events had sold out. Hopefully the next ones do as well. I’m looking forward to doing a full blown Christmas Puerto Rican menu this December, complete with pasteles and pernil. The menu will evolve over time. While most of the menu now is very ancestral and from my heart – with the exception of the dessert – I’ll start to reveal a more cerebral menu that includes some of the dishes I’ve been working on where I merge the similar flavors of Southeast Asia, Mexico and Puerto Rico.