Monday, July 2, 2012

Bueno Eats: Pop-Up Series to Showcase Chef’s ‘Latin Freestyle’ Cooking

By Luke Tsai
Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Empanada enthusiasts and arepa aficionados, take note: Bueno Eats, the latest dinner series to debut at the Gourmet Ghetto’s pop-up-friendly Guerilla Cafe (1620 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) will take off this Friday, July 6.

Showcasing the self-styled “Latin Freestyle” cooking of chef Maria Esquivel, the pop-up will serve dinner from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every Friday through the end of July. The series coincides with the month-long summer break being taken by the cafe’s “permanent pop-up,” homestyle-Jamaican specialist Kingston 11.

Maria Esquivel, the chef-owner of Bueno Eats
  • Maria Esquivel, the chef-owner of Bueno Eats
Like many pop-ups, Bueno Eats is the creation of a relative newcomer to local culinary scene: Esquivel has been cooking professionally for three years now, and her day job is as a cook at Old Oakland’s Caffe 817. But she’s long dreamed of opening her own place: a cute cafe with good coffee and excellent small bites, ideally located somewhere in downtown Oakland. Her hope is that the Bueno Eats pop-ups will be a step in that direction, helping her to build up a following for her food.

Fortunately, Esquivel has had the support of Caffe 817’s owners, Scott and Emily Goldenberg, who allowed her to host a pop-up brunch — also under the “Bueno Eats” brand name — at the cafe a couple of months ago. The concept that time was traditional American brunch fare (eggs benedict, pancakes, etc.), but the upcoming dinner series will be rooted firmly in the cuisines of Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.

Esquivel says her biggest culinary influences are from having grown up in a big Mexican family, but she also cites eight months she spent last year working in different kitchens in New York City, where she was inspired by the diverse Latin-American food scene.

Her cooking philosophy — what she calls “Latin Freestyle” — consists of putting contemporary twists on traditional Latin-American dishes, often combining elements of a couple different cuisines. For instance, Esquivel’s version of Colombian-style empanadas are spicier and more intensely-flavored than the traditional version — a nod to Mexican flavors, she explained.

Buenos Eats tacos
  • Buenos Eats tacos
Other dishes Esquivel will be serving at the Bueno Eats pop-up this Friday include crispy yucca arepas, duck confit tacos, a deconstructed chicken tamale, and dulce de leche cake. You can check out the full menu on the Bueno Eats website. Esquivel said she hasn’t decided yet if she’ll swap out any of the dishes in subsequent weeks.

The dinners at Guerilla Cafe will be casual, order-at-the-counter affairs. No reservations are necessary.

Got tips or suggestions? Email me at Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com. Otherwise, keep in touch by following me on Twitter @theluketsai, or simply by posting a comment. I'll read ‘em all.

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