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Cuban Restaurant on lower First Ave.

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  • Dena Jul 29, 1999 11:00 AM
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Nearly a month ago, soomeone posted a message about
the National Cafe and recommended it for lovers of
home-style Cuban cooking. My interest was definitely
aroused, so my husband and I took a ride by a few days
later. Sadly, the security gate was down. This was
during the worst of the heat wave and lots of
businesses were closed due to the brown-outs
downtown. We drove by several more times during the
next couple of weeks, but it still wasn't open. I
finally thought of calling (duh) on Monday and, to my
delight, they had reopened. The closing was, in fact,
due to a combination of the owner's illness and the
power outage.
My husband and I finally ate at the National last
night and it was well worth the wait. The place is
tiny--just a counter and a few small tables. The
atmosphere is, well, non-existent, but it's clean.
The greeting was warm and friendly. We were presented
with menus and a small dish of fried plantain chips
and we ordered a half carafe of sangria. We shared a
large avocado and onion salad--nothing remarkable
about it, but everything was fresh and crisp (except
for the avocado, which was fresh and soft).
Our entrees, ropa vieja (stewed, shredded beef with
onions and green peppers) and macitas fritas (fried
pieces of marinated pork) were, on the other hand,
quite remarkable. Each was accompanied by a hefty
serving of rice and beans. We opted for yellow rice
and black beans, but white rice and red beans are also
available, so you can mix and match as you please.
Both our dishes were delicious. The waitress brought
me a bottle of garlic sauce and explained it was for
the pork but that I should just try a little before
putting it all over the meat. Following her
recommendation, I tried it and loved it, so the garlic
sauce went everywhere.
We also ordered a side dish of maduros (fried sweet
plantains) and it, too, was wonderful. Instead of
cutting it into the usual 2- or 3-bite pieces, it was
prepared and served whole, so we could cut off small
pieces.
It was probably the best Cuban food I've had in New
York and the portions were very generous. In fact, the
leftovers and an additional order of rice and beans
await us at home for tonight's dinner, augmented with
maybe another salad, some garlic bread.
The whole thing (wine, salad, two entrees, two side
dishes, and a decaf cafe con leche, cost just $33!
They're open 6 days (closed Sunday)for lunch and
dinner and I heartily recommend this place.

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