Growing up in Miami means Latin and Caribbean flavors on your plate daily. Lots of drunkenly eating croqueta preparadas and cheap mojitos made with Sprite at 2am after a punk show. Or guava pastries and Jamaican curry chicken patties at a take out counter before work. Even in my gringo-ass family my grandmother fries plantains and has a bottle of diced scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar in the fridge at all times. South and Central America cuisines are also well covered with dozens of Peruvian, Mexican and Colombian places scattered throughout our city.
All this forms a disclaimer as to why I'm a bit of a cunt when it comes to Latin food in Beijing.
Yes! So, Buena Onda!
It means “good vibes” in Spanish. The pop up space is situated smack dab in the thick of China Central Mall's luxury shops in the same space as Cafe Flatwhite, surrounded by Fendi and Chanel stores. Spacious outdoor seating, thoughtful décor and great atmosphere. The night I was there, it was drawing a well-heeled Chinese crowd getting politely sloshed. Service was very attentive and friendly throughout the night. Definitely lives up to it's name.
Cocktails! They specialize in pisco, which is a Peruvian and Chilean distilled spirit made from grape wine. A classic Pisco Sour (60rmb) came first, although the acidity was far too low to cut through the egg white aroma. Nice decoration with the bitters resting on the foam, though. The passion sour (60rmb) was much more successful, and was downed in a couple of good, tart mouthfuls. The drinkware all looked very 1997 Pier One Imports, which is kind of a thing I guess.
Food came quickly and all at once, so we tucked in. The classic ceviche (50rmb for the small) was delicious and authentic, with thinly sliced red onion and sweet corn, although it was lacking in piquant heat. Actually, nothing seemed to contain chili, I guess as to not offend European sensibilities. And the tortilla chips. Damn, Latin places in Beijing make it rain with paper thin, bland tortilla chips. Just so many. I needed a machete to hack through the forest of them.
More fish cooked in lemon, please! The Salmon Tartare (90rmb) is a laowai wet dream of salmon and avocado. (How popular are these two ingredients in foreign establishments in Beijing? I guess they're universally delicious?) It was gorgeous spread on the crispy “artisan bread.” Goddamned good. The yellow tiradito (90rmb) was light, refreshing and very fresh. But unfortunately, it looks like an STD being studied on a petri dish. Or a mold sample. That presentation doesn't work. Raw fish should be on glass or porcelain. Paper plates automatically spell picnic, regardless of how heavy the ply is.
I'm thirsty. Round two, please! The Clerico (50rmb) is a nice, well balanced white wine sangria with orange and pears. Quaff-able. Not so awesome was the Sour of the Day (60rmb), which was “strawberry” flavored in a artificial candy sort of way. That price is steep, so do your customers a favor smash a couple of frozen strawberries at the bottom of the shaker. Easy peasy.
Back to gorging. The trio of “Latin dips” (30rmb each) make for good snacking between cocktail sips. All serviceable, especially the creamy guacamole, but what was described as a salsa verde contained no tomatillos. It's more accurately a perfectly executed garlic-y and cilantro-y chimichurri sauce, which was begging to be drenched on a churrasco steak and not eaten with corn chips.
And while we're on the subject of corn chips, Buena Onda, with all this acidic food and acidic cocktails, more variety of starchy stodge would help. Where were the generous slabs of boiled white Peruvian corn and sweet potato, a staple of ceviche joints? The cheapest ingredients possible, and they'd help with the carb shortage happening. Also, huancaina, which is boiled potatoes in a spicy creamy cheese sauce, is a common Peruvian dish that would help to counter the acidity. High profit margin options on these ideas, Mr. and Ms. Onda crew.
The Take-away: Buena Onda: A few minor quibbles, but recommended. This is a romantic, like-able after work cocktail and tapas option if you're in CBD. An A+ Tinder date excursion. And while we drank our third round lounging outside in the breezy weather deep in conversation half listening to live Latin-esque Bob Marley covers, we had definite gap year, early twenties, tropical vacation vibes. And those are some pretty good vibes.
Buena Onda is at China Central Place, 6 Xidawang Lu.