From sopas and ensaladas to ceviche and carne, Cuban cuisine sets the heart and soul on fire! Although a trip to Havana is the real deal, American lovebirds are discovering the allure of Cuban dishes without the opportunity to travel. Already a fan favorite in Philadelphia, Orlando and Atlantic City, Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar has opened its doors in Washington DC just in time to ring in 2011 with a fruity mojito or a shot of piquant spiced white rum.
A true taste of Cuba, this tropical hot spot marries the golden days of Havana with innovative Latin cuisine that is oh-so haute and spicy. With a menu showcasing his culinary genius, Chef Guillermo Pernot is not only a whiz in the kitchen but an award-winning restaurateur and author of the wildly delectable cookbook, “Ceviche: Seafood, Salads and Cocktails with a Latino Twist,” which, we might add, is a delicious holiday gift for the sweetie in the family. Born in Argentina, the Chef and his wife, who is Cuban and whose great, great grandfather was a former President of Cuba, live in Philadelphia with their two children. “Cuba Libre is perfect for a first date or a couple celebrating an anniversary,” smiles Chef Pernot as he presents a flight of tangy ceviche to a cuddling twosome. “The mood lighting mixed with cool Latin rhythms playing overhead make the room feel intimate and sensual plus with a rum list of over seventy rums and fourteen varieties of mojitos, we’ve got a lot of Latin libations to keep the conversation interesting.”
In DC’s trendy Penn Quarter at the corner of 9th and H Streets, Cuba Libre – a name that translates to “a free Cuba” and hope for the future of the island nation- is a feast for the eyes with an open-air dining room reminiscent of the traditional courtyards of pre-Castro Havana. The creative brainchild of Cajun artist Kevin Hale and Cuban-American architect Carlos Sobrin, the dreamy ambience transports diners from the hustle of the nation’s capital to the glory days of Havana. A colorful streetscape – easily seen from the street through French windows – is lined with full-scale facades of Cuban homes with airy balconies and drapes that billow in the breeze.
Perfect for sharing, ‘piquenos’ or small tasting plates are the raison d’etre for couples to snuggle at a corner table. Mouth-watering palate-pleasers include guava barbecued ribs, grilled baby octopus that is so tender you eat it with your eyes closed, scrumptious tuna ceviche with jalapeno, coconut and ginger sauce and the Cuban classic arroz con pollo which is a home-style melange of saffron rice, chicken and chorizo braised with Presidente beer.
To seal the deal, dessert is a must-try from fresh berries with rum-infused whipped cream to the sinful ‘Tres Leches de Banana” – a sinful concoction of vanilla sponge cake with chocolate banana mousse and caramelized bananas. And to toast the holidays, a ‘Cuban Kiss’ martini made with spiced rum, crème de cocoa white and Bailey’s Irish Cream will do the trick nicely. “Cubans are romantic by nature,” smiles manager Robert Reyes as he serves a refreshing guava mojito to this thirsty reporter. “Latino culture is passionate and full of spicy food, sweet drinks and sultry music. Folks feel tropical inside the restaurant and that keeps them in a romantic mood.”
New on the menu for 2011, late-night salsa on weekends – bring your dancing shoes!
Click or Call
Si, You Can Try These at Home
Grilled Corn Salsa
Created by Chef Guillermo Pernot
Makes 4 cups
7 ears of corn, husked
1¾ cups fresh lime juice
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
4 Serrano chiles, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon chopped chipotles
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 red onions, cut into small pieces and rinsed in cold water
5 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into small dice
Preheat a grill to red-hot. Add the corn and grill evenly until well browned and slightly charred. When cool enough to handle, cut off the kernels without cutting too close to the cob.
In a medium bowl, combine the corn with the lime juice, cilantro, Serrano chiles, chipotles, olive oil, vinegar, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. Serve at once or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
Juice from 1 lime (2 ounces)
4 mint leaves
1 sprig of mint
Havana Club white Rum (2 ounces)
2 ounces club soda
Place the mint leaves into a long mojito glass and squeeze the juice from a cut lime over it. Add the powdered sugar, and then gently smash the mint into the lime juice and sugar with the back of a fork or spoon. Add crushed ice and rum and stir. Top off with club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig.