Cuba Libre

When Cuba Libre, a Philly-based chain, opened in Penn Quarter a few months ago, they did this brilliant promotion – diners got 50% off if they dined the first week, and 25% off the second. (I went on the last day of week 2). A restaurant always has to work out a few kinks when they first open, so I thought it was a great way to get people in the door and keep them happy, even if there were a few glitches in service.

Speaking of glitches, I encountered one immediately upon entering. And maybe this wasn’t really a glitch but just standard operating procedure. My friend was waiting for me outside, but was on a quick phone call. I said I’d go ahead and let them know we were there, and hopefully get seated while she finished up her call. The maitre’d informed me that I would have to wait until my friend came in to be seated. Now, I understand that restaurants prefer to seat an entire party only when everyone has arrived, because of the possibility of no-shows, etc. I thought the fact that my friend was just outside and was going to join me in 2 minutes should have counted for something, but no…I had to wait in the busy foyer area until she came back inside. I was rather vexed. And the thing is, I don’t think I would have minded waiting – all he had to do was placate me with an apology (even a fake one), but the maitre’d acted all stone-faced, like he was too snobby to bother.

And I have gone on for far too long on this subject! (^__^);; Suffice it to say I was not happy with the front of the house, and first impressions are rather important…especially when opening a place.

I should say that our waitress was extremely accommodating and attentive! Aside from the check that had to be sent back to include the discounted price, the rest of the evening’s service was very lovely indeed. The interior decor was big and fabulous, with stained glass windows and impressive fronts that made it look like you were on a street in Cuba. Somewhat kitchy, to be honest, but I suppose that was part of the appeal. The place was pretty loud, so it’s not a place for an intimate dinner.

As for the all important food – I’ll start with the appetizer course, pictured above. I had the dark rum-glazed pork belly with vigorón slaw. I enjoyed this dish a lot! The pork was fatty and luscious, and paired well with the light vinegary slaw.

The rest after the jump:

Their homemade bread with mango butter, courtesy of the house. The bread was fried and when coated with that mango butter, it melted in my mouth like French toast. (*___*)

We shared another appetizer, buñuelos de espinaca, or spinach and Manchego cheese puffs. They looked kind of different from what I imagined a cheese puff would look like, but they were very delicious. The outside had a nice crunch and the cheese was gooey and hot on the inside.

I had the ropa vieja, a classic Cuban dish (it also happens to be the first dish I’d ever ordered at a Cuban restaurant, years ago). It’s “shredded beef brisket, stewed with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, peas and red wine.” Came with maduros (plantains) and rice. I thought it looked really gorgeous, though was somewhat surprised that the rice came on the side. This was probably a good thing though, seeing as this was a much soupier version than I was used to. I thought the flavors were really bright and the beef was tender and wonderful.

In all, I enjoyed myself very much! Would love to try more from their menu next time. (^__^)v

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