By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
A traditional corn tamale was delicious, moist with ground corn; some whole kernels and an abundance of pleasantly chewy conch added contrast. The plate was garnished with green and black olives, wedges of ripe tomatoes laid on strips of queso blanco, a salad of baby lettuce, and a spicy jalape*o, garlic, and cheese pesto.
Three-bean terrine also was an elaborate construction. A slice of the terrine, which featured layers of hearts of palm, buttery avocados, and tri-colored beans (black turtle, white navy, and red kidney), stood upright on a sweetly pungent, bitter orange mojito sauce. Two pieces of thin, pressed garlic bread and marble-size bites of goat cheese finished the dish. The plate itself was garnished with Jackson Pollack-inspired swirls and drips of an avocado puree, sour cream, and artfully placed sliced red peppers. Although it sounds like too many flavors, the mellow avocado, sour cream, and hearts of palm balanced the notes of garlic, bitter orange, and goat cheese perfectly, and the firm beans were an evenly spiced pleasure.
Like the appetizers, main courses were slow to arrive. However, "Evita's Grilled," a skirt steak, was worth the wait. Seasoned and grilled to medium-well rather than the requested medium-rare, the steak nonetheless exuded a tasty gamy flavor. Cut to resemble a tutu surrounding a belly of delicious marinated cabbage salad, the steak was complemented by matchstick fried yucca with garlicky mojo and a tangy, finely chopped tomato salsa.
Yucca stuffed with a picadillo of wild mushrooms (a semisweet combination of finely sliced shiitakes, raisins, onions, capers, and tomatoes) on a bed of sauteed spinach and topped with beet-and-carrot vinaigrette sounded great. However, when I ordered the dish the server informed me that the vinaigrette would be replaced by sofrito, the tomato, onion, pepper, and garlic mixture used as a base for many traditional Cuban dishes (we both thought this sounded even better). He didn't tell me that the chunky saute also would replace the spinach, a serving of leafy, iron-rich greens I was looking forward to.
As he served the yucca, the waiter warned me to be careful of the steam when cutting into the baseball-size ball of potatolike dough. But no vapor rose from the luke-cold dish. Too bad, because otherwise it was extremely satisfying, the mashed and reformed yucca smooth and free of stringy fibers, the filling complementing the sofrito underneath.
Neither was pasta mariscada particularly successful, although its mingling seascape flavors were palate-inspiring. Bay scallops, shrimp, calamari rings, one mussel, and two whitewater clams were tossed with linguine in what was described on the menu as a rich lobster sauce. That sounded like a cream sauce to us, but actually it was a very thin, albeit delicious, broth that didn't stick to the linguine whatsoever. A grilled lobster tail and fully armored jumbo prawn topped the dish. My gringo guest wasn't at all fazed by the head-included crustacean, but he was disturbed by the difficulty he had in slicing the lobster tail into pieces (in order for the entire table to have a taste). Seconds later, we were all horrified by the lobster meat, which was unquestionably raw. (Unlike some sea creatures, lobster does not have an appetizing taste or texture when consumed uncooked.) After politely hawking into our napkins, we sent the whole dish back, only to become victims of the kitchen's overcompensation A tossed back into a saute pan, the remaining seafood became overcooked.
Matters improved with pan-seared tuna loin, also served on the raw side -- but then we wanted it that way. Red in the center, the inch-thick tuna medallions were a tender treat, too many to finish. The only dish on the menu to own up to an influence that's not Cuban (in this case, Latin and Asian), the tuna featured a creamy coconut-curry rice and a fantastic black-bean-and-shrimp spring roll.
Our waiter checked back with us as our entrees were being cleared, and then he died. Yes, that's right, the overburdened server who replaced him informed us that between the entree and dessert courses, our waiter had passed away. And good service apparently died with him.
Coffee was served fifteen minutes after our dessert, an outrageous, spongy chocolate tres leches served with a scoop of dense chocolate sorbet on the side that didn't exactly arrive tout de suite, either. Of course, we had plenty to entertain us. The downstairs area was packed with patrons dressed to the dientes awaiting a Hispanic songstress scheduled to perform at midnight, a party to which, according to our new, rude server, we weren't invited. I'd like to think our original waiter was somewhere down in that throng, and not laid out in the ice machine awaiting an autopsy. I'll bet Frasier never had this particular problem.