July 2013: Elena’s ups & downs to dining out in Havana

DOWNS:

Arrogance at La Cocina de Liliam
Calle 48 No 1311 entre 13 y 15, Miramar. Tel. 209 6514

It is a pity that such a beautiful paladar can be ruined by the arrogant attitude of the staff who act as if the world is not worthy of them. This was the place Jimmy Carter came back in 2001 and before the new wave of paladares opened was one of the few class acts in town. Although the Havana dining scene has now changed they seem not to have got the memo.

Friends of mine were recently asked never to come back here after an argument with the waiter who refused to serve them more bread at 11 p.m. Go figure… I don’t care if the rich and famous come here I still believe even little old me is always right—I am the customer after all.

Closing of Chaplin’s
What a shame. This paladar started of on the right foot. Conveniently located in Miramar, the décor was chic and trendy food good and the service friendly. Sadly not long after the opening the overall quality of the place seemed to stall and then go downhill. Even best efforts to set the right ambience through a violin player seemed to backfire and in my last visit I had to wait about 20 minutes for a glass of wine, and my main dish was finally brought to the table when my friends had already finished theirs. So, Chaplin’s is no more. Viva Chaplin’s.

Cover charge at La Fontana
Calle 3ra A esq. a 46, Miramar. Tel. 202 8337

La Fontana is a great restaurant with consistently good food, great service and a nice ambience. Recently they have introduced jazz nights inviting top class Cuban jazz musicians to play while you eat. So far so good. The only issue is with a cover charge of CUC 5 per person, which they add to the final bill without necessarily saying up front (or charging at the door). If you love jazz (and know about the charge) I am sure that no-one will mind but for some of us this can be a real annoyance especially if you prefer rock and roll.

UPS:

The Tampiqueña steak at Los Compadres
Calle 66 A esq. a 41, Playa. Tel. 203 6908

Los Compadres bills itself as a Mexican place, has a Mexican partner and even a mariachi band, BUT most of the menu is actually more international/Cuban than Mexican. Sensitive to the criticism in recent weeks they have started to introduce some more authentic Mexican fare including my favorite, the Tampiqueña steak. Cut thinly (as it should be) and served with tortillas, refried beans and a homemade pico de gallo it is excellent. Thumbs up. Wash it down with a couple of margaritas!

The opening of Bikos
Calle 19 #1010 esq. a 12. Vedado. Tel. 831 8847

This bar was opened in June 2013 and promises to be a great addition to the paladar and bar scene in Havana. The décor is interesting and carries an African theme accentuated with custom made chairs that resemble the original Coppelia chairs. This has more of a bar than restaurant feel with a large selection of tapas, wine and cocktails that one can enjoy in an open terrace or over a comfortable sofa inside the air conditioned area. Bikos offers also breakfasts that include fresh fruit, home made juices, and (I have been told) Benedictine eggs that are to die for…

Prices at Casa Lala
Calle 24 e/ 23 y 21, Plaza de la Revolución. Tel. 830 1410

Havana Chef has had a make-over and a name change to Casa Lala. It has the same delicious menu (including the suckling pig that I talked about in a previous column) but with lower prices. The place is very pleasant, with only an open space that even during the hot Cuban summer manages to stay breeze and cool. On top of all those things, the service is very friendly. Do not miss the chorizos cooked in wine and the fresh pastas!

Points rewards at Star Bien
Calle 29 #205, entre B y C. Vedado. Tel. 830 0711

I love the efforts that some paladares are going to in order to distinguish themselves. Star Bien, a lovely place in Vedado has gone so far as to create a points reward system. The more you go and the more you spend, the more points you have and, of course, you can use those points for “free stuff” in the restaurant. I went back with some friends for lunch recently and we were informed that we had accumulated 35 points in our last two visits, which gives us enough money for two entrees or for a good bottle of wine. Rock on.


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