If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck…it normally is a duck. Walking into La Moneda Cubana I could not believe that this really was a paladar. From the bad fake copies of Mona Lisa and the Last Supper on the walls to the staff dressed in Spanish colonial costumes to the sparse high-ceilinged main room and Habaguanex-style menus, this seems every inch another disappointing state restaurant located in a beautiful historic building. After a long chat with the owner, Miguel Angel, however, I was convinced that duck is off the menu.
Situated up a narrow staircase at the entrance of Plaza de la Cathedral, the location is exceptional. Back in the 1930’s, the building was a famous food and liquor store owned by Don Ramón, an Asturian who arrived in Cuba in the early 20th century. Here he fell in love and married a Cuban girl. Around that same time, he founded the family business of food stores, all of which were located in Old Havana. Don Ramón was a passionate collector of old and modern coins, hence the name of the restaurant (The Cuban Coin). Miguel Ángel is Don Ramon’s grandson, who has lived in the same place most of his life, and fifty years after what seemed to be its permanent closure, La Moneda Cubana is back in business. I liked Miguel and his enthusiasm for ensuring client satisfaction (“don’t like, don’t pay” seems sincere).
The menu is extensive with a stylized traditional Cuban bent. Miguel trained at a culinary institute and has included recipes that have been in the family for generations. The fish menu includes lobster petals with Aldabó fragrance; escabeche, or pickled fish, with fine herbs and capers; lobster rings with shellfish cream soup; and shrimp and fish Havana fisherman-style. From the meat menu, guests can choose fillet steak in red wine with grapes and cinnamon; lamb in garlic and coffee; or fowl and shrimp with wild ginger. Cuban traditional homemade puddings and custards are predominant in the dessert menu–rice pudding with milk and shredded coconut, baked custard with coffee syrup and Añejo rum, and sweet potato pudding with cinnamon sticks and mint.
Ultimately, this is a tourist destination; there is such a large walk by trade from the Cathedral Square that there is no real need to attract more demanding visitors. Competition is from the state restaurants which dominate Old Havana and which are not hard to improve upon. Given the location and capacity, we feel that La Moneda Cubana is well suited for groups that want to be in the heart of Old Havana but is not for those seeking a cute authentic paladar. From what we have seen and tasted, the food is OK–reasonable but not exceptional.
I went back here in early 2012 and was slightly shocked to see the changes. The roof top terrace has been developed and was absolutely packed when we went with hundreds of people enjoying the late afternoon sun and wonderful view over the bay. This is undeniably a beautiful terrace and the waiters try heroically to meet the demands of an ever-increasing clientele. If you are around Old Havana this makes a great place to catch a cocktail and a quick bite as the sun winds its way down.
Prices at La Moneda Cubana
This is what I would describe as an O.K. paladar. The food is far from outstanding and the pirate costumes of the waiters leave make it seem too much like a tourist theme park. Nevertheless, situated in the heart of Old Havana the views from the terrace are spectacular encompassing a wide sweep of the city and the bay which make up for it, at least until you see the prices on the menu! Up to 18 cucs for a seafood entrée that it is not spectacular seems like gauging to me and is likely to send people who know a block over to the very cute Doña Eutimia.