February 2013: Ups and downs at paladares in Havana

Well, it seems that the new year started on the right foot for paladares in Havana; this month it was especially difficult to find flaws in the city’s restaurant scene and at the same time the “ups” seemed to increase. As a result, we have five “ups” this month and just three “downs.”

DOWNS:

The slow service at Madrigal:
The last two times I was in this nice looking bar in the Vedado area I was with a fairly large group of friends, and I would be lying if I said we had a bad time. We had a blast! But it would have been even better if we hadn’t had to wait up 20 minutes for a daiquiri. The bartender was a very nice fellow, but he made each on separately when we had ordered five at the same time! OK, maybe there is a secret charm to the individually mixed daiquiri, but the service was slow. Other than that I love this place—the chairs are uncomfortable and the noisy blender is too close to the patrons but the art is interesting and the location is very convenient.
Calle 17 # 809 (altos) e/ 2 y 4, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-831-2433

The filet mignon at Italia en Cuba:
This is a new paladar in the Miramar area. It is located on a nice terrace and has a big screen where you can enjoy music videos while you eat (in case this is your cup of tea…it’s not mine). The focaccia was amazing, even the take away was fresh and crispy the following day and the pizza was good, too. But unfortunately I made the mistake of ordering the filet mignon. As a red meat lover I am in constant search of the good steak in Havana, which is not an easy challenge. But in this case I specifically asked the waiter before ordering: “is this a filet cut or something else?” He assured me it was filet and he said it was fantastic and accompanied by a bordelaise sauce. “OK, medium, please,” I said. Huge mistake! The meat was definitely not filet but the toughest part of the beef, and it was more than well done. A shoe would have been softer. When I complained about how it was cooked, I just got a “too bad” look from the waiter, and for an uneatable meat I paid close to 16 CUC. I will be back for the foccacia, though!
Calle 20 #721 e/ 9na y 7ma Tel. (+53) 7-207-4412

The guitar player at Vistamar:
In one of the most beautiful paladares of the island, in a contemporary house, with a gorgeous pool, a magnificent view of the sea, and really good food, why in the world did anybody think they needed a guitar player singing Guantanamera and Hasta Siempre (the Che Guevara hymn)? I guess it works for the tourists, but for those who have been here more than a few months it’s more a nuisance than an attraction, made more so by the fact that the guy (who I am sure has very good intentions) tries to sell you his 10 CUC CD of songs. May I offer some advice? Expand his music repertoire, stop the promotion of his CD and let the patrons enjoy their meal.
Ave 1ra e/ 22 y 24, Miramar. Tel. (+53) 7-203-8328

UPS:

The suckling pig at Havana Chef:
I am not a suckling pig person, but this was really good. My Spaniard dining accomplices (who really know about suckling pig) believed it’s one of the best in Havana, therefore, trusting their educated palates, it must be so. It was one of the youngest piglets I have ever seen cooked, the meat was tender and flavorful and the skin was crispy. To my horror, I witnessed a pair of Spaniards almost fighting for its little three-week-old head. On top of that, the paladar is great, service was amazing, and the food will be the subject of more “ups” in the future. Just bear in mind prices are a little bit in the high side.
Calle 24 # 360 e/ 21 y 23, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-8301410

Garlic octopus at Doña Eutimia:
This paladar has a lot of “ups”—it has actually been acclaimed by major news organizations such as The New York Times, and the Daily Beast called it one of the best 101 restaurants in Latin America (how about that?) True, it is good… it is good Cuban food. But the garlic octopus is beyond good, it is amazing. Make sure to order extra bread for this appetizer, because you will want to dip it into the wonderful garlic-infused olive oil in which the octopus is served. Don’t miss it!
Callejón del Chorro #60 C, Plaza de la Catedral. Tel. (+53) 5-270-6433

The art at Le Chansonnier:
Set in an old house in the Vedado area, this paladar has an interesting menu, a good looking bar, and it also has very friendly service; prices are a little bit high but the food is flavorful. Nevertheless, the place distinguishes itself for its contemporary, elegant and chic look. One can tell that professionals were in charge of the décor. Classic element such as the glass chandeliers are harmoniously mixed with minimalist furniture with stunning results. But above anything, the most interesting element is the wall that leads to the bathrooms, a fascinating piece made with old paint cans produced by local artist Damián Aquiles. It is worth going to Le Chansonnier, even if just to admire that wall.
Calle J #257 e/ 15 y Línea, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-837-1576

Tacos al pastor at La Pachanga:
This is s real “up.” This paladar that has been open for about a year has become widely known by the stickers seen on cars all over town (which guarantee the car owners a discount at the place, by the way) It is also famous for its burgers, fruit smoothies, and the fact that it is open until the early hours of the morning. But what really makes it unique are the tacos al pastor. These tacos are maybe the most traditional dish of Mexico’s street food. They are made with seasoned pork steaks, overlapped in a skewer that turns facing a vertical rotisserie. The meat is carved and placed in corn tortillas along with pineapple. They are not quite like the ones in Mexico but they are still great. Bring your own hot sauce and ask for an extra serving of pineapple.
Calle 28 # 254 / 21 y 23, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-830-2507

Tuna and vegetable tartlet at Decameron:
This is a longstanding “up” in one of the older paladares in the city, located right on Linea, almost at the corner of Paseo. The place is nice, unpretentious and with a beautiful collection of antique wall clocks. The service is usually very friendly and the prices are reasonable. The food is usually good but the star of the menu is the tuna and vegetable tartlet, listed as an appetizer. This small dish is just fantastic, the crust is flaky and the filling is flavorful and topped with melted cheese. Last time we were there we just had to keep reordering tartlets, we couldn’t get enough!
Línea #753 e/ Paseo y 2, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-832-2444


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