WHO’S IN CHARGE Alberto Cabre, who was raised in Puerto Rico, and his wife, Angelina Jockovich, from Colombia, worked as architects before deciding food was their passion. After running a small catering business here, they opened Casa B, a split-level tapas restaurant and cocktail bar in Union Square, Somerville’s foodie heartland, in 2011.
“I grew up going to Spain with my grandfather,” says Cabre, who does the cooking at Casa B. “That’s where I learned about tapas.” (The B in the restaurant’s name is from his grandfather’s last name, Bobonis.)
Cabre draws inspiration from the spicy Spanish Caribbean cuisine of Puerto Rico and the Atlantic coast of Colombia, with added influences from Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. “It’s tapas with a Latin American twist,” he says.
THE LOCALE Casa B is easy to miss. We recommend using GPS. The restaurant’s street front, roughly the width of a school bus, is crowded by culinary neighbors: an Irish pub, a German wurst haus, a large Mexican cantina. The narrow ground floor is a rum and cocktail bar that can accommodate overflow from the dining room downstairs, which is roomier.
Arriving on a Friday evening with a 6:45 reservation, our party of three descended a steep flight of stairs lined with old wooden doors and shutters, painted white, and vintage photos in heavy frames. The first thing we noticed in the intimate, warmly lit dining room was a wall bursting with healthy-looking green plants. (The restaurateurs use a gardening service. Years ago, they tried growing spices on the wall, but the edible plants attracted bugs.)
The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, thanks in large part to Casa B’s outgoing service staff. Diners can sit at a small bar, which includes a pair of upholstered two-seaters, and watch the kitchen staff assemble their miniature creations in the open kitchen. The quirky decor and plant-filled wall add to the welcoming vibe. In fact, we altogether forgot that we were sitting in a windowless basement room.
ON THE MENU We perused the menu with the aid of a pair of delicious citrusy rum cocktails ($12) from barman Taso Papatsoris. We settled on a medley of tapas, or “small bites” ($5 to $9), and platitos, or “small plates” ($13 to $16), that arrived at regular intervals over the course of the next hour and a half. For more ambitious eaters, the menu includes a half dozen platos, or large plates, which range from yucca gnocchi with sauteed mushrooms ($22) to Puerto Rican plantain mash stuffed with garlic shrimp ($28).
Tapas, by definition, are small, but ours were too delectable not to share. Awkwardly wielding the restaurant’s tiny forks and knives with our fingertips, we divvied everything up among ourselves. The hamburguesita de cordero was a tasty lamb slider made with sharp cheddar, caramelized onions, and yogurt sauce ($5). Messy but good. Choripan was sliced guava and mildly hot Spanish sausage wrapped in a puff pastry ($9). It reminded us of a very classy hot dog.
For a tapas change of pace, we shared an ensalada siete capas, or seven-layer salad ($9), which was a refreshing mix that included Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, egg, green peas, and microgreens.
Among the platitos we ordered, a particular favorite was calabaza asada: grilled butternut squash with crispy shallots in a spicy honey sauce ($14). The squash was crisp on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside, with the glaze adding a little zing. Equally fabulous was an unusual small plate of spicy organic wild mushrooms served on grilled sweet-potato slices ($15).
A small plate of pincho de pollo con tostones — skewer-grilled marinated chicken with green plantains drizzled with something called “spicy grandma’s sauce” ($15) — was perfectly cooked, both crunchy and juicy, with a piquant zip that reminded us of cocktail bitters.
Atun salteado con ajonjoli ($16) was a more familiar treat: lightly seared sesame-crusted tuna with wasabi aioli, heaped with microgreens and served with sweet plantain. It was delicious — chewy and a bit sweet — though we would have liked a little more kick from the wasabi.
We finished with a pair of $12 desserts. A serving of tres leches or “three-milk” cake contained condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream and was served with a soft meringue and a ganache of Somerville’s own Taza chocolate. Even sweeter and richer was a large dish of sugar-crusted orange creme brulee with candied orange peel. If we hadn’t been eating small portions up to then, we would have died right there. But we would have died happy.
Casa B, 253 Washington St., Somerville, 617-764-2180, www.casabrestaurant.com.
Coco McCabe and Doug Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.