Friday, January 21, 2011

Havana Rumba - The highs were high...But the lows were low

The setting: A beach front bar in Aruba

The cast: Nick, me of course, and an extremely friendly Canadian woman

The plot: A conversation about Cuba...and why it's a truly amazing place to visit

There's something about beach front bars that bring out the best in people. In any other bar, in any other place, no one would sit down next to you and start up a conversation out of the blue. But when you're barefoot and somewhat tipsy, all bets are off and you find yourself making friends left and right

This particular evening in Aruba, Nick and I befriended a nice, and extremely gregarious woman from Canada. We got to talking about the resort and other warm weather destinations we had visited. Then, very quickly, the conversation turns from "that sounds nice" to "that's nothing...let me tell you about THIS place".

Perhaps it's me(actually, Nick will tell you it most certainly IS me) but when we start talking to people about travel over a round(or 5) of drinks, I start to brag and try to one-up our new friends' stories. I'm unaware it's happening until I glance at my husband and see him begin to sink into his chair and perhaps glance at the ocean as to say "I'd be more comfortable half drowning in that angry sea right now than listening to you say, "oh...we travel A LOT" one more time". At this point I try to repair the damage done and become uncharacteristically quiet in an attempt to let the other parties squeeze a word in edgewise.

When I finally quiet down I'm always happy I did, because I learn some of the most amazing things from strangers at ocean front bars. Like about Cuba and it's overall awesomeness when it comes to being a tourist destination.

Apparently Cuba is an awesome place to visit. And this isn't the first time I've heard this. People say there's amazing music, food and parties everywhere. They say that the architecture is charming. The beaches are beautiful. The people are warm and friendly.

I sure would love to go one day(and god help the first group of people I brag to about it...Nick...I'm giving you a heads may want to have an escape route that evening).

Since it doesn't look like I'll be heading to Cuba anytime soon I suppose I can supplement my wanderlust with food lust. Yes. That will do nicely.

Nick and I visited Havana Rumba one evening after being told that the food was amazing. Always in the mood for a good mojito and some bitchin' pork, we made a b-line for the restaurant.

We arrived early-ish on a Friday evening(6:45 or so) and walked into a waiting area which was already jam packed. We spotted two open seats at the bar and decided to make our wait a bit more enjoyable with the aid of a few mojitos.

We ordered two mojitos and, unfortunately, instead of seeing the bartender reach for some fresh mint leaves, or some fresh lime, or a muddle stick(I'm sure that's not it's real name), we saw her reach for a bottle of slime green liquid. She poured this pre-made mixture into our glasses and garnished it with a slice of lime(a bit too late if you ask me) and a sugar cane stick.

I held out hopes that it just looked gross but would taste delicious. I was wrong. All of that lovely fresh, bright flavor that makes a mojito such a dreamy drink was gone. It was vaguely reminiscent of a mojito but I wouldn't be ordering another that evening.

We were seated quickly after receiving our drinks and ordered our appetizer, a special for the evening, fried seafood cakes.

The seafood cakes were delicious. They were chock-full of seafood flavor, fried perfectly and came with a delicious spicy dipping sauce and creamy avocado mayo. Perhaps, we thought, the mojito was a fluke, as we were very happy with our appetizer.

For entrees I ordered the special, a braised short rib, and Nick ordered one of the "house favorites" the Lechon Asado...slow roasted pork.

Between the appetizer and the entrees a basket of bread was brought to our table and after taking a bite, went back to thinking that perhaps the mojito wasn't a fluke after all and was a sign of things to come. The bread was very obviously day old. Nick tried to play devil's advocate and said, "maybe they just left it in the oven to heat up too long". But one more bite and he changed his mind and decided that it was in fact stale.

Our entrees arrived and we were back to thinking that the bread and mojito were small oversights because the meats were cooked perfectly.

Nick's pork was flavorful, tender, delicious and ample. It came with a side of rice and beans and a dinosaur egg size hunk of boiled yuca. The rice and beans were good but the yuca was bland(I mean, I know yuca itself is pretty bland but they could have done something, anything to elevate it), and comically huge. But overall, Nick's dish was tasty and well received.

My short ribs were also well cooked, bursting with deep, rich flavor and fall off the bone tender...but they were cold. I'm not talking warm-ish...they were a few degrees below room temperature. And it's such a shame because they were cooked really, really well. They were seasoned really, really well. And they came with some super yummy fried sweet plantains. The dish was really a success...but a cold success, unfortunately.

So what do I say or do now? Whoever prepared that meat was certainly a gifted cook. There's no doubt about it. Whoever prepared the seafood cakes did a bang up job and delivered well on flavor and texture. There's no doubt about that either.

The failures were in the simplest things, really. If you spend all that time and energy braising short ribs why on earth would you serve them cold? If you own a popular(it seemed very popular that evening) Cuban restaurant why would you serve a truly sub-par mojito? And stale bread, although not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, is easily avoidable.

Perhaps they were very busy that evening and didn't put my short ribs under a heat lamp. The place was packed. Perhaps they find it necessary to cut corners on things like mojitos by pre-mixing them to keep up with demand. But one of the reasons I went there at all was for a good mojito!

I'm honestly not sure why there were so many failures that evening.

Perhaps it really was a fluke.

And perhaps I'll give Havana Rumba another shot. It's hard to deny the tastiness of the meat dishes...but it's also hard to overlook everything else.

Havana Rumba Cuban on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to say, we used to frequent Havana Rumba a LOT! But the last time we went, it seemed like they "skipped" over our name and we waited a lot longer than we were supposed to... and when we ordered the Vaca Fritas (which we ALWAYS get), we ended up with something completely different, and when we asked "is this vaca fritas?" they just said "yeah", when clearly... we knew otherwise. So we haven't been back since, so I don't know if they've just been having those "fluke" days a little too often. =)