Where to Casa Caña, inside what used to be the Days Hotel on Soldiers Field Road. Now it’s the Studio Allston, a boutique hotel with artsy aspirations. There is lots of geometrically patterned neon in the lobby.
What for Latin American cuisine and good vibes from the Lyons Group (Scampo, Sonsie) and Trio Restaurant Group (Publico Street Bistro). There’s salsa music on the stereo; empanadas on your plate; and a magenta palm tree, alone, in the lobby.
The scene Nocturnal. The room is empty at 6 p.m.; a waiter gingerly refills water glasses while a hostess stands alone by the front door. But by 7:30, merengue music has been cranked, and the room fills with lady friends, lovebirds, and co-workers sipping rum cocktails. The hostess flashes her bright-blue manicure to an appreciative table; a man with an enormous backpack sets his burden down and nervously awaits his date beneath a woven-wicker pendant lamp. Hello, Havana.
What you’re eating Former Babbo Boston chef Tim Hixson serves snacks, small plates, and larger entrees. Unadventurous diners might opt for yucca fries ($8), black bean dip ($8), or prawns a la plancha rubbed with lime and garlic ($16): Those flavors are pretty tame. Friskier palates can enjoy a trio of plump “el corn dogs” on a bed of tart pineapple salsa ($8) or chicharrones ($10) — crispy, glossily greasy pork belly strips alongside Tabasco served in a miniature bottle. Larger dishes are easy to split, too, such as green curry mussels with coconut and chilies ($16) or short ribs braised with tomatoes and olives ($26). Inquiries about dietary restrictions are carefully handled, and food arrives fast.
Care for a drink? Rum cocktails get prime menu real estate: mojitos, daiquiris, Cuba libres, and pisco sours. If you’re feeling really wild, order a $72 Hotel Nacional rum punch bowl with apricot, pineapple, lime, and champagne (four guests minimum, please). There are also plenty of Latin American beers: Negra Modelo, Tecante, Presidente.
Overheard Work gossip; welcoming chit-chat. “She has no coping skills,” a woman huffs to her table, work badge slapping against a chair. “Her rival is Kendall — she’s always throwing him under the bus,” another woman pipes up. The happy hostess, she of the bright-blue nails, welcomes a group to a corner table. “The dust is still settling!” she says with a laugh, motioning to the half-empty room. (It will fill up soon.) An apologetic waiter delivers a to-go box of corn dogs to a waiting table, placing them inside an enormous brown bag. “Sorry. It was all we had,” he says bashfully.
1234 Soldiers Field Road, Allston, 617-415-5402, www.casacanaboston.com.Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.