San Cristóbal paladar: Off the radar with a touch of art nouveau and sprinkling of nostalgia

It was one of those chance finds: a restaurant with personality, and off the radar. Leaving the main road of Centro Habana clouded with exhaust from rattling Oldsmobiles, Chevies, Buicks et al, I had dodged a group of kids whacking baseballs to head down a side street. The smart frontage looked promising in contrast to its surroundings. Then a heavy-looking bouncer swung open the ironwork gate and, this being Cuba, flashed a big smile.

Thus I entered San Cristobal, a spanking new paladar (private restaurant) that is a sign of Raul Castro’s slow relaxing of entrepreneurial constrictions. Havana’s top places have always been located way out in the smart residential areas of Miramar and Vedado. Habana Vieja, the tourists’ theatre-set, has a handful, but here in Centro Habana, the peeling, commercial in-between, there was nothing. Or virtually, because in fact a few blocks north was the most iconic paladar of them all, La Guarida, still living on its fame as the location for Cuba’s big 1994 hit film, “Fresa y Chocolate.” But time moves on, and although my lunch there was excellent, I wanted somewhere new.

Seated on an art deco sofa in a pistachio-green anteroom, I was invited to read the menu. The waiter, in immaculate white shirt and bow-tie, apologised that for the moment the menu is only in Spanish as the restaurant was only two months old. Although it made a bizarre decorative contrast, I had the choice between a sunny, leafy patio and a shady inner world of art nouveau nostalgia in the three salons. A zebra-skin, piles of leather-bound books, chandeliers, lace table-covers, antique furniture and framed vintage photos all led me back in time to a pre-revolutionary era of bourgeois comforts. Foodwise, it was another story, as the charming chef-owner, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez, has travelled all over, from Mexico City and Brazil to Madrid and Milan. This was apparent in the balanced gazpacho, velvety tortilla, tender lobster and delicate crème caramel that I consumed—altogether totalling about 40 CUC. I’ll go again, that’s for sure.

San Cristóbal
Calle San Rafael #469 entre Lealtad y Campanario, Centro Habana
Tel (+ 53) 7-860-1705
Closed Monday.

© Fiona Dunlop
Fiona Dunlop is a travel writer and writes the excellent blog Slow Track through civilization. www.fionadunlop.com

First published in The Reconnoisseur on www.howtospendit.com


  • Opera

    Opera  LH 5+

    – Best for Homely & Intimate enviroment Quality food in a beautiful setting. – Fresh pasta, vegetarian dishes  and quail.

    La California

    La California  LH 5+

    La California Restaurant For quality food, impeccable service & intimate ambience Superb Cuban-Creole/International menu Dine in a beautifully restored 19th-century colonial building just one bloc …

    Nazdarovie

    Nazdarovie  LH 5+

    I never really knew the Cuba from the days of Soviet support. My first memories of the island belong to a time that is very close to the Great Change, when we were already starting to see that what ha …

    El Cocinero

    El Cocinero  LH 5+

    El Cocinero opened in February 2013 and has instantly become a smash hit. Located underneath the imposing brick chimney of the same name (which used to be a vegetable oil factory), this bar/restaurant …

    Le Chansonnier

    Le Chansonnier  LH 5+

    When a delegation of chefs from Alice Waters’ celebrated Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley visited Cuba (November 2012) on a mission to spark a revolution in the Cuban diet by exposing islanders to …

    La Carboncita

    La Carboncita  LH 5

    His is Walter Ginevri’s (the Italian pizza guy) new place in Havana, except that actually this Paladar is owned by Eneida, a pleasant, businesslike woman, who has lived for some time in the accompanyi …

    Doña Eutimia

    Doña Eutimia  LH 5+

    It would take a hard heart indeed to be immune to the charms of Leticia, the owner of Doña Eutemia. Small, old, personal, she wants an intimate place where you come to relax. So much so, that she stat …

    Bikos

    Bikos  LH 5

    Bikos, which I am reliably, told means kisses opened in June 2013 on the site of the old Galeria paladar. This is pure Spanish food and has quickly established itself as the location of choice for Hav …

    La Fontana

    La Fontana  LH 5

    La Fontana is quite simply one of the very best places to eat in Havana. Great food, a good atmosphere, efficient and unobtrusive service for a reasonable price make this a real Havana institution, th …

    La Guarida

    La Guarida  LH 5+

    Enrique and Odeisys Nuñez first opened what has become Cuba’s most celebrated paladar on July 14, 1996. During 2009, it closed its doors out of what may be determined as an abundance of caution before …

    1 of 15 pages »