Cuba Libre the Cuban Restaurant and Rum Bar in Penn Circle is especially proud of its Caipararinhas, and sampling a simple classic one seemed the best way to accent the evening in store. This is the second year Chef Guillermo Pernot (above) of Cuba Libre has initiated a cultural/culinary exchange between the U.S. and Cuba by bringing authentic Cuban chefs to the states to show us what advancements have been made in Cuban Cuisine since the days of Batista. The evening’s festivities on June 12 showcased the Cuban tradition of the Paladar style restaurant. (Paladar in Spanish literally means the roof of your mouth.) Chef Alain Rivera Santana of the Doctor Café in Havana made a very long trip to satisfy our appetites.
To begin with, savory appetizers appeared as well as traditional Cuban style toast with a choice of three different dipping sauces—a pork sauce, a reduction of olives and raisins, or Cuba Libre’s own signature mango butter. Then came the official first course: Merluza al Escabeche, fresh cod in vinegar-chiles sauce accompanied by a lamb tongue and beet salad, that was beautifully plated with the cod in a separate jar. It had a flavor that was briney yet still savory.
For the second course we had Canelones de Cangrejo. This dish consisted of a delightful fresh corn pasta cannelloni (among the many discoveries of the evening was how popular pasta is in Cuba) served with a sweet crab meat enchilada filling. It was a rich dish that was kept to a small portion.
For the third course Atun, we had a lightly grilled yellowfin tuna, made with a Malta-honey reduction, and ruby red grapefruit and lavender supremes. The tuna was served quite rare and delicately skewered while the supremes were creamy and flavorful. To complete the evening we had Sopa de Mango, a chilled mango soup served with Cuba Libre’s own five year old rum ice cream. A truly exquisite treat. (Photo at left, Alain, left, and Guillermo).
Another highlight to the evening besides the excellent gastronomical display was the Q&A session conducted in English and Spanish between the guests, Chef Guillermo the organizer, and Chef Alain who had prepared the meal. Discussion ranged from the ingredients in the dishes used like the corn for the cannelloni to the more political issue of whether such a meal as we had been served was within the reach of most ordinary Cubans. (The verdict—no.) Chef Guillermo mentioned that he had no plans to do a Cuba Libre restaurant in Miami, stating, “Why bring sand to the beach?” Moreover, there was an older couple who had been born in Cuba, and raised in America who were particularly astounded and impressed by the food. Unbeknownst to many Cubans in the U.S. is the fact that Cuban cuisine has indeed evolved in the last fifty years since Castro’s rise to power and made great strides. (Sadly other parts of Cuban society haven’t fared nearly so well.) Chef Alain’s next stop will be the Philadelphia branch of Cuba Libre and that is good for them. This is one form of cultural exchange that works to the full benefit of all parties involved.
801 A 9th Street, NW