Havana Have What She’s Having!

The menu is designed for snacking with cocktails or for a full meal. Calamari crusted with blue cornmeal, served with plantains and a tamarind vinaigrette, was a perfect match for a Pisco Sour, as were the crisp potato mushroom croquettes with truffle jalapeño sauce. The spinach and cheese empanadas turned out to be surprisingly leathery, but were somewhat redeemed by a lovely salad of ripe figs. I was disappointed with the guacamole, which was thin and overmixed. But I loved the chunky salad of jicama, avocado, orange and tomato tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, and the ceviche made with thick pieces of hamachi marinated in chilies and lime juice.               

 

MATÉ MAKES AN appearance in the kitchen, mixed with pomegranate juice as a glaze for the beef short ribs. The ribs were one of the best dishes on the menu, rich and unctuous, served with a pile of crisp hand-cut shoestring fries and chimichurri sauce.

The pulled suckling pig was also very good, tender pieces in an orange garlic sauce with yucca purée, topped with a piece of chicharrón, the Latin version of crackling.

Twice, we had to wait an inordinately long time for the main courses to arrive. One evening the manager apologized; he said they were a man short and he took the drinks off the bill. Another night we were told the baked rice dishes took 30 minutes. Whatever. But those casseroles cooked in earthenware dishes were worth the wait. The fideua was a mix of prawns, cockles, calamari and chorizo in deep saffron sauce with macaroni and aioli (on another night, there was a version with coconut rice). The arroz con pollo delivered a golden piece of chicken on a pink bed of chaufa, a Latin take on Chinese fried rice, laced with scallions and piquillo peppers.

Desserts included a Latin favorite, churros, with dulce de leche and chocolate dipping sauces, and a rich coconut cake steeped in tres leches, topped with grilled pineapple salsa—very nice with a fizzy glass of moscato.

Which is probably why I began writing this review with a headache. But then I made myself a cup of yerba maté. Is it wishful thinking, or do I feel better already?

Moira Hodgson’s memoir, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, will be published in January by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday.

mhodgson@observer.com.