Casa Cubana 59 Grand Ave./Webster St., (510) 452-CUBA (2822). L M-F, D M-Sat. Located two blocks west of Lake Merritt, this expansive yet cozy spot serves Cuban inspired cuisine.
The chef melds traditional Cuban flavors and Caribbean influences with modern techniques to create a delicious seasonal menu. Signature items include a Habana Cocktail (shrimp cocktail with fresh mango, cucumbers, and avocado in a tomato citrus broth) and Croquettas (crispy traditional dish prepared with applewood-smoked ham and béchamel sauce), but we chose the Cuban guacamole tarted up with fresh pineapple and served with thin housemade plantain and yucca chips.
We followed this with a green salad tossed with jicama, mango, and almonds plus a tasty hemp-herb dressing.
The Corazon De Palma (hearts of palm, endive, papaya, and cucumber with a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette) and Kale Avocado Caesar (romaine lettuce and kale with white anchovies, avocado, pepitas, and golden raisins) also sounded promising. For my main course, I chose Lechon Asado—a slow-roasted pork shoulder marinated with orange, garlic, onion, fennel, and cumin, and served with forbidden black rice and sweet maduros (plantains). It was a large portion that left me with enough to take home for sandwiches the next day.
My dining partner chose pan-seared salmon with cauliflower and more maduros. It was also a generous portion, but he managed to eat it all. Additional slow-cooked options include a grilled marinated skirt steak, roasted chicken, guava-glazed ribs, and duck breast.
To cut calories, often my dining partner and I share a dessert. This menu had me choosing Pavlova (a meringue filled with mango puree and topped with fresh fruits)
and him insisting on banana bread pudding, though the Guava Cheesecake with dragon fruit sauce and Coconut Flan with a sesame cookie tuile and lime zest were also enticing. We weren’t sorry, but we were quite stuffed.
With such a tropical menu, we both wanted a cocktail. I chose a pina colada because I saw one wander by to another table. It was not a slushy Hawaiian-fantasy blended version, but it was good—and topped with a square marshmallow and a tiny umbrella. However, my husband ordered a Mojito, and a taste of it made it clear that this is the drink of choice here. But do keep in mind a Banana Daiquiri and the Remolacha (a mix of beet juice, cilantro, ginger, citrus, and pistachio). An international wine list and a selection of craft beers are also options.
A full bar in the front features tropical palms and a high ceiling with slow-turning fans. It is an inviting spot to sit for a while before your meal, or to just hang at for a lighter meal. Or stop in for Happy Hour (daily 4 to 7 p.m.) for discounted drinks and bar bites.
Though the dimly-lit restaurant spreads through four large room, it fills quickly and becomes noisy with animated chatter. While here, do allow time to take in the art. It is part of Casa Cubana-owner Sam DuVall’s private Cuban art collection--one of the largest in the U.S. Portraits of beautiful women by Mario Mendez hang in the middle room, while many colorful big-eyed subjects painted by Exposito adorn walls in the back room. Mixed in throughout are vintage photos and posters.
For more information about travel to Cuba, let me introduce you to expert Christopher Baker.
View a video interview with Christopher Baker.
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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers