Ten years and going strong after a re-launch explains why everyone at Cuba seems to be having a wonderful time. And why not? The restaurant captures the spirit of old Havana with great, strong drinks, charming service, folk art on the walls and beautifully presented, delicious food.
Most of the team, including Cuban-born owner Beatriz de Armas, Executive Chef Mario Garcia, manager Viviana Cabrera and head bartender Eduardo Tavares, have been working together since Cuba's inception and their act is well-oiled.
Both red and white sangrias, available by glass or pitcher, are loaded with chunks of fruit or drink a mojito like the version with 23-year old Zacapa run. Ginger rum gives the Hemingway its kick along with lime juice, mint and Cava while that Cuban fave, the daiquiri, arrives frozen garnished with strawberries. Wines from Portugal, Chile, Argentina and Spain are great matches for the Cuban, Latin and Spanish-influenced food.
Chicharron Prensado, braised pork belly with balsamic glazed skin, comes with congri, a rice and beans combo with a layer of spicy chorizo and peas that makes a terrific starter as do the lightly fried empanadas, (cheese and spinach was particularly tasty), and various cerviche preparations including one with lobster and citrus peels.
My entree, the duck confit special, brought a (slightly stringy) leg portion set on a puddle of pumpkin puree laced with kale; my dining companion thought her pollo a trifle dry but found the accompanying tomato, watercress and avocado salad refreshing. All the standards: Rope Viello, Arroz con Pollo and paellas are available in generous, tasty portions.
A side of chocola, a Peruvian corn, is a must--the kernels are almost three times as big as the US version, and are pan sautéed to make the nutty flavor sing. Cuban desserts can be incredibly sweet although my pumpkin crème brulee laced with currants was superb.
The room is a bit of a squeeze but hey, this is the Village. On weekend nights, a lively three piece Cuban band provides exuberant music making conversation something of a challenge but non-music nights are far quieter. At lunch you can sink your teeth into a traditional Cubano, the pressed and toasted sandwich of roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard as well as a new menu item, the Miramar, with fried scallops, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on toasted Cuban bread. The Tortilla Cubana, an omelet with chorizo, manchego and spinach is a brunch standout.
On certain nights, a cigar roller does his thing which is fun to watch. Behind the main dining space lurks the Terrace Room with private party seating for roughly 20. Downstairs are two more rentable spaces, the Family Room for about 27 and the Hemmingway Hideaway with a speakeasy-cum-lounge feel for 35 or so.
Cuba serves dinner all week starting at 4 PM; lunch Monday-Friday; weekend brunch from 11 AM to 4 PM and has a happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 PM. The spirit of Papa Hemmingway lives on Thompson Street.