Every time cousins Kirk Cambridge-Del Pesche and Susan Puckerin chatted at family gatherings, the conversation was always the same: They should open a restaurant together. Cambridge-Del Pesche, whose family owned an eatery in the Grenadines, bemoaned the lack of an authentic, upscale Caribbean spot in the Boston area. Puckerin, an accomplished home chef and hair salon owner, was eager to cook up the cuisine of her native Trinidad.
When an East Somerville property on McGrath Highway became available in June (the space once housed the restaurant Las Brisas) the two took the plunge. They brought aboard Jamaica native Mark Reid as executive chef (he cooked at Reggae on the Grill and Caribbean Rhythm, both in Dorchester). Puckerin is also in the kitchen and her husband, Michael, a retired Olympic runner and cleaning business owner, serves as sous chef. Cambridge-Del Pesche manages the front.
The neighborhood is getting to know the 45-seat spot, open just over a month. On a Saturday night, the sound system is playing a lively mix of soca and calypso. Three little girls, using aprons as props, are playing fashion show among the pastel-colored ottomans in a corner of the restaurant. A bucolic mural of a palm-tree-lined river decorates one wall.
A complimentary “fish tea” soup comes to the table, flecked with salmon and carrot, hearty and delicious. It should be hotter. “Everything is made to order,” our server says. Indeed, it takes almost half an hour before entrees arrive. Meanwhile we sample sorrel ($4), a sweet magenta-hued drink, and a golden anise-flavored beverage called mauby ($4).
Goat roti ($11.99) features tender, bone-in meat, cooked in a spicy yellow curry. Torn pieces of hot, flaky roti flatbread, called “bus up shot,” are perfect to mop up the sauce. The dish comes with sweet-salty tamarind syrup plus two sides. We opt for aloo, a mixture of curried chickpeas and potatoes, and buttery mashed pumpkin. A dining companion raves about the reggae platter, which he orders with jerk pork ($14.99, $12.99 with jerk chicken). Long-roasted pieces of bone-in meat are encrusted with jerk seasoning that packs substantial heat. Callaloo (a stewed tropical green with okra) is viscous, vegetal, and oh-so-satisfying, as is a side of smoky minced eggplant, called melongene choka.
On another night, the complimentary soup is made with chicken feet. A far cry from the chewy dim-sum version, these slender, toothsome pieces of poultry are silky and delectable, simmered in a rich broth with carrot, celery, and dumplings. Baccanal wings with Buffalo Soldier sauce ($8.99) are batter-coated, fried puffy-crisp, then slathered with a heady sauce. We can’t stop licking our fingers. We would love a Red Stripe, but alas, no beer or wine here, at least, not yet. We enjoy a frothy, nonalcoholic ginger beer ($4) made from the freshly grated rhizome, sugar, and cloves.
Little Ochie ($16.50) is a Jamaican-style whole fried snapper, topped with rings of red bell pepper, onion, and carrot, sauteed briefly in vinegar with Scotch bonnet peppers and whole pimenta (allspice berries) that give the dish a zippy, floral kick. With it, we get a square of cheesy macaroni pie and callaloo (this time, without okra and sporting a molasses-like taste). Additional sides are available ($2 each).
This young restaurant has kinks to work out. Multiple menu items are often not available. The menu seems like a recitation of dishes that the kitchen is capable of making, not necessarily what’s on offer. Ask for the white board of specials. Even then, don’t be surprised if what you request is out.
But don’t let these growing pains keep you away. Pack some patience and slip into island time. When wintry winds blow into town, you’ll be grateful for this little slice of the Caribbean, brought to you by two cousins with a truly delicious vision.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.