It’s Fall! Who doesn’t love the idea of a good ole pig roast (well obviously not vegetarians)? So when I saw that Jimmy Alvarado of MV Smoke House and now the chef at Isola was doing a pop-up pig roast at Isola, I was immediately interested.
I was even more interested because he plans to do similar pop-ups at other Island restaurants, including Park Corner Bistro. I was also intrigued because of the way the pigs were being roasted. Jimmy favors a La Caja China – a China box for roasting pigs.
A little background. In Havana, back in the 1950’s, you would find vendors from Chinatown selling roasted meats in an aluminum box with coals. Years later, La Caja China hit the scene and became a popular way to roast pigs. With a Cuban heritage, you now get the name. This might be too much information, but I was curious.
For the pop-up pig roast, Jimmy prepared a menu that was meant to “honor the pig.” As a chef and a big fan of roasting and smoking, the menu needed to reflect his passion, and make the most of the pig, the pig itself and the flavors. It highlighted the pig with Mexican and Cuban styles. On the menu you found the words “Everything Pork Goodness From Nose to Tail.”
Jimmy is Peruvian, and he told me that Mexican and Cuban style food is very similar to Peruvian cooking. Plus he loves black beans and rice, which was of course featured. Also, cooking out of his comfort zone is a challenge that he wants.
Jimmy is a big fan of the La Caja China, and was excited to create this pop-up at Isola. This method of roasting is simple but leads to some seriously tender and flavorful meat. With this, the menu was simple, there were four small plates to choose from, Cuban bowls, sides, and the big shebang, 1/2 a pig head for two.
Of course we had to sample as much of the menu as possible. For starters, we had the Crispy Pork Rinds with fennel pollen ($6.00). They were light and crispy and definitely appealed to my friend from the UK, Garry, who loves noshing on these in pubs. I appreciated them, but I like to consume other fried things more.
We also had Spring Sheldon’s Pork Tacos. Spring is a chef in the Isola kitchen and a good friend of Jimmy. The tacos were so good, topped with onions, Spring’s Guacachile — a green spicy sauce made out of serrano and jalapeños — and Jimmy’s salsa roja which consist of charred onions, jalapeño, jabaneros, onions and garlic and olive oil.
My personal favorite of the small plates was the Pork Shoulder Chicharron which was so tender and flavorful. The dish was served with sweet potato chips, charred garlic vinaigrette, and onion salsa. So yummy!
For our main meal, we joked about getting the 1/2 pig head, but we left that for the more adventurous. Apparently a number of these dishes (only 6 available since there were three pigs) were already reserved for true enthusiasts. It was a sight, that’s for sure.
We decided on ordering one of each of the Cuban bowls. There were four of us and we were already pretty full. However, we wanted to try as much as possible.
For the Cuban bowls, you chose your pig, pork shank or roast, and then two sides.
The pork shank we got with fried plantains and the Elote (grilled corn with spicy mayo and cotija). We ordered extra Elote because we all needed to try a piece. I loved the pork shank, so tender and melt in your mouth. Just pork perfection on a fork.
For the roast, we had Cuban rice and Wash Ashore Braised Black Beans. Oh that rice and beans…Jimmy is right to love them. The sides were so good, and something so different from what you would typically find at a Vineyard restaurant. The pork roast was really good too, but I guess I am a sucker for beans and rise.
As you might have noticed, I mentioned Wash Ashore could be found in the black beans. Wash Ashore helped sponsor the La Caja China pop-up at Isola. A great pairing with the pig roast, and bottles were only $4.
A great way for Island businesses to work together. I love pop-ups! You can have so much fun with them, be creative, think outside the box (La Caja China that is). This pop-up was a huge success. The place was packed, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Wash Ashore co-founder, Joe Monteiro, even bought the room we were in a round of beers! How fun. Jimmy was coming to tables to talk about the food, and it all really added to the fun vibe.
Missed this one? Not to worry because there are more to come. And yes, you should go to the next pop-up. It will most likely be pig, but the menu will be different. Who knows, there could even be a Pho night (please). We’ll try to keep you posted throughout the off-season.
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