Cafe Habana - hit and miss (but mostly miss)
- David De Silva
My wife and I just ate at Cafe Habana last night. Being lovers of Latino food we were looking forward to our visit. The review states that this is traditional Cuban food, no fusion here.
Well, it was unfortunately a hit and miss (mostly miss)type of a meal. The atmosphere is great. A small town house with tables very close to each other, a cool little bar with neat overhead lights, ceiling fans, Buena Vista Social Club playing loudly, definitely a hit. Our Mojito's were great and added to the atmosphere.
Of our appetizers the Tamal was quite good and tasty. The Empanada, on the other hand was baked (instead of fried), with thick chewy dough and bland filling (my wife's are WORLD'S better). Entress were on the whole dissapointing. The pot roast was very tender and tasty but the accompanying yucca and "saffron" rice were pasty and bland. The Lechon Asado was horrible. Dry, very fatty and bland bland bland. Tasted like it had no seasoning added at all. Even the couple sitting next to us said that their dishes (steak and whole fish) were bland and overdone as well. Upon mentioning my complaint to our waitress, the owner was apologetic and offered us a drink. We skipped desert and left.
It was truly a dissapointing meal. It was some of the blandest food I've had and nothing like the Cuban food my wife grew up eating. It's hard to believe that the owners are Cubans from Miami. In our book, Azafran and Cibucan are miles ahead of this place.
Sorry to hear of your bad experience :o(. I stopped by Cafe Habana just for a drink a couple of weeks ago and had a lovely time and thought the place was really nice inside atmosphere-wise. The Mojitos there are the best I've had - not overly sweetened being the key - and my friend and I thought we'd go back and try the menu on another night. I will try the place once and see if I like it, but will certainly keep your comments in mind. At least your wife's empanadas are readily available at home! Lucky you!
On another note, I had dinner last weekend at Tierra Colombiana. My husband had arranged a surprise party for me there and it was GREAT! All of our friends (about 30 people) absolutely loved the place and a great time was had by all, particularly me! And it's also a great place for a party, the service was excellent (better than it had been in my past experiences actually) and the food was plentiful and delicious as always. Everything comes with the "Holy Trinity" of Latino carbohydrates on the side - Plantains, Rice and beans, and other starchy root vegetable of your choice (Yuca for me with a yummy garlic sauce they also serve with the "Aranitas") I would *always* recommend that place when you're jonesing for some good Latino soul food.
re: Katie Benes
We too loved the atmosphere at Cafe Habana and will return for another of their Mojito's! I will be very interested in your opinion of the food when you eat there. We want to know if we just went on a bad night, just had bad dishes, or whether what we experienced is typical of the menu as a whole. By the way, we did have an excellent bottle of Portuguese red wine that was a decent value at $25.
Thanks for the tip on Tierra Colombiana. We've heard many great things about it from many people and will be our next stop. And yes, I am quite lucky to have great Empanadas made for me by my wife (taught to her by her grandmother Monsita herself). Ciao and chow, David
re: Cuban What to Order?
I think that part of enjoying Latino (or any) food is exploring dishes you've never had before. Being adventurous with food is usually a rewarding experience. Be that as it may, there are some basic standards of Latino food that are always popular. For starters, I enjoy things like a Tamal (or Pastele) which is a mixture of cornmeal and meat (like chicken) wrapped in a corn husk (or banana leaf) and steamed. I love Empanada's which are flaky pies filled with seasoned meat, peppers, olives, etc. and fried.
For entrees there are things like Ropa Vieja (shredded skirt steak over rice and beans), Vaca Frita (fried strips of skirt steak over rice and beans), Lechon Asado (slow roasted pork), Escabeche (flavorful stew with pulled meat, onions, peppers, tomatoes,etc., and don't forget those awesome Cuban brick (pressed) sandwiches (pork, ham, pickles, swiss cheese, garlic mayo on a soft roll pressed in a pan and fried with butter). Less Cuban (I think) but always wonderful is Paella (chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams, etc. over yellow rice) and one of my favorites Mariscada (seafood stew in a tomato based broth). Boy I'm getting hungry! These are just a few of the more common dishes that come to mind. Hey Katie and Gabriel, give this person more suggestions, OK?
re: David De Silva
David covered most of my favorites, and I am in complete agreement that one should always be adventurous with new cuisines! How else to learn what we like and don't like? A few other dishes I'd recommend are Picadillo, which is sort of a Cuban version of Sloppy Joe mix - ground beef, tomato sauce, vegetables, olives and raisins all sauteed together for a very savory treat. Also, Pechugo de Pollo or Arroz con Pollo are both braised chicken and vegetable dishes that you can't go wrong with. Try the fried plantains, either maduros (ripe and sweet) or tostones (unripe and starchier). And don't forget to have Black Beans, either as soup or mixed with white rice, a dish known as Moros y Cristianos (Moors & Christians) because it's black and white. Although I have yet to find a restaurant that makes black beans as delicious as my mother's, I am forever looking nonetheless!
Best wishes for a delicious meal!
I also *love* Cuban (and all Latino) food. 4 of us went out to Cafe Habana last night, and comletely agree with your assessment. Very nice, comfortable atmosphere, but disappointing food. The Picadillo was fatty, greasy, low quality beef; the same for Ropa Vieja, also fatty and low quality meat; Lechon Asado was OK, but also generally low-grade meat. Appetizers were mixed - like your experience, the Tamal was excellent, but the rest were fried and bland. Overall, it seems like the ingredients were low-grade - it's hard to make a good meal when the basic ingredients are low quality.
I personally liked Cuba Libre better. The food is not fabulous, but it's "good", and for me, the Hemmingway-esque 1930's fantasy decor makes it worthwhile. However, the relatively high prices and difficulties in getting weekend reservations are drawbacks.