Thursday, October 27, 2016
The Cuban restaurant field in Miami is crowded, to say the least, and competition is fierce. To stand out in this contest, you can either go forward and innovate, or you can capitalize on the element of nostalgia. Havana 1957 impresses with its striking nightclub environment, a traditional Cuban menu, and a spirited live music show that is quickly becoming a favorite among the great Cuban population. That said, this native Cuban always looks for a certain flavor that will conjure memories of that special seasoning in my mother's and my numerous aunts' cooking. I have found it before, but not here.
We ordered two cocktails we believed would be executed to perfection considering the context, an orange Mojito, or Orangito, and a mango Daiquiri. John said the Mojito had a hint of orange in the rum, and it was sweet, as expected. My $11 Daiquiri, however, was no more than a glorified mango pulp slushie. I've had better and cheaper.
I live for gastronomic experimentation, but when it comes to Cuban food, there's a standard that must be met for me to consider it good. It's a generational benchmark set a long time ago by a group of masterful women who ruled in the kitchen. For that reason, when I visit a Cuban eatery, I have to go for the staples. John ordered the 'vaca frita', refried shredded beef and sauteed onions, with rice and black beans for sides. I ordered pork chunks, also with sauteed onions, in the company of black beans and 'tostones', or plantain fritters.
John's vaca frita was arguably one of the best I've had. It was well seasoned and tender, a quality not easy to achieve with refried beef. My pork chunks were average. The flavor was forgettable, and they were just a bit overcooked. The tostones were perfectly suited for the pork chunks- toasted right, but not accompanied by any 'mojo', the traditional garlic oil marinade for your dipping pleasure.
The dessert menu offered the expected flans, guava cheesecake, and Tres Leches (Three Milks), a moist yellow cake that has been soaked in a mixture of whole, evaporated, and condensed milks. We skipped the course for two reasons. First, we weren't thrilled with the meal, and second, we were on the hunt for a concoction we'd heard about in a different restaurant called Nutella Overdose. I will leave the details on that for a forthcoming post, but the name says it all.
Havana 1957 came highly recommended, and I do believe their live music and performances offer entertainment with a unique Cuban flavor. That and the nostalgic feel of the space are the elements that would entice me back, but sadly, not the food.
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