Havana South (Portland) anyone?
Some food-forum chums came up from NYC so we checked it out. Over-all, we had a good time and a quality dinner.
Started at the bar with a Mojito, Caipirinha, the "Scorned Woman" ("A Bar Harbor legend comes to Havana South -- House infused chile vodka, passion fruit juice and a chile garnish"), and some Coronas. The bar is BIG and separated from the main dining area - the foot print s largely the same as the many forgettable bars on that corner over the years. Caipirinha was properly mulled but a shade on the weak side The barkeep graciously added a capful or so of Cachaca at my request. The Scorned Woman was pretty damned exciting if you ask me - a hit.
Our party of three ordered as a team so we could share everything - 4 apps and 2 mains.
Ceviche of the day was Halibut - a regular menu item anyway but hey, it was a Monday - served in a cappuccino-style cup. VERY nice (and I make a ton of it at home) with a surprise coconut milk finish at the end. "Fire & Ice Ceviche" had a good kick to it, and a more citrus-y base. Even though the shrimp had to have been frozen, I couldn't really tell.
Tuna Escabeche was nicely paired with avocado and charred vidalia onion. I could have had more tuna, or thicker slices, but it left room for plates to come. The hit of the apps, however, were the Huitlacoche-dusted scallops. Seared and served as exotic little dark-green lumps on field greens in an agave-lime vinaigrette. Fascinating truffle-like accent. Highly recommended.
Our two mains were hotly debated, but our very pleasant server broke the deadlock with her fave, braised short ribs served over “red flannel” hash (with beets & chorizo) in a grilled tomato mole. Nicely done, even though I reserve these strictly for fall and winter, they were melt-in-your-mouth, almost like candy. The paella arrived on a white plate, startling the hell out of me since I've always had it - or cooked it - terra-cotta style. It didn't smell promising either, but as we picked through the shrimp and perfectly-done chicken thigh, I realized we were dealing with that char one finds on the business side of a paella pan. The rice was gloriously muddy, and since we ended up sopping every last grain, mussel, and chorizo slice, I realized I had no reason to be faulting this kitchen for this effort. We chose a Cava for our apps and the house sangria for the mains which made for a most enjoyable dinner.
So it may not be Cuba, or Brazil or Spain or whatever, I feel the effort to bring a respectful approach to Latin-inspired cuisine to Portland is largely successful. If it were a smaller venue, it would make more sense to geo-specialize like Tu Casa, or chef-focused like Figa, but Mr. Boland and Mr. Pappas have put many cuisines on a broad menu under a large roof on Wharf Street where a change was sorely needed.
We were seated in a brick alcove at the edge of the open-air terrace on the Old Port Cobblestones, the Eastern-most end of this cavernous place. I began counting the incarnations that had been in that spot; I remember the pizza place next to The Forge; G'vannis attempt at deli fare; some other sub and coffee ventures, but on this warm summer night, I was transported back to Brazil where I lived with my parents having a great night with friends, and this bit of Wharf street seemed to have finally become what it was meant to be.
I was really excited when I read your post, but alas it wasn't authentic affordable Cuban (like places in south Florida). They do have a website and it looks more like a Latin "fusion" (hate that word) place on Wharf Street. Pricey.
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