2/16/12

Don't Be a Square, Go Cuban

Ok, I'll admit the title is a little cheesy, but with the breadth of different flavors present throughout the NYC cuisine scene, I find good, authentic Cuban to be underrepresented. Good thing I found Cafecito in the East Village to quench my craving for fried plantains, mojitos and bistec empanizado.

Owner Manny Garcia invited me and a guest to check out his menu, all recipes crafted by his mother and slightly updated for modern times, on a recent Tuesday night. A tell-tale sign that a restaurant is good is obviously a wait. When we arrived, not only were people waiting for tables at 8:30 pm, but the bar area was packed with folks sipping mojitos and other concoctions. The only thing missing was the live music, although this place is tiny even by NYC standards, and I have no idea where a band would even go.

We were welcomed with mojitos (yum!) and seated once the crowd died down a bit. For an appetizer, we sampled the Saboricito De Cuba (which I'm assuming means "taste of Cuba") that came with a papa rellena, 2 empanadas, a frita cubana and 2 croquettas de jamon mariquitas. There was a lot of fried happening on this plate, but it was all delicioso. The papa rellena was my favorite, but honestly everything was superb.

Saborocito de Cuba

For entrees, I ordered the cod special with yellow  rice and fried plantains and my guest had the house special Churrasco with chimichurri sauce, lime cured onions, yellow rice and black beans. Though slightly oily, the cod was tasty and light. The rice was moist and who can dislike fried plantains? Really? These were amazeballs. The churrasco was slightly overcooked and chewy, but also tasty. The beans and rice together were a classic combo and I kept stealing beans because they were so yummy.


Cod Special with Yellow Rice and Fried Plantains
Churrasco
At this point we were already on round 2 of mojitos and our stomachs were verging on way-too-full. However, Manny would not let us leave without dessert (a man after my own heart!). He brought out both the Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Flan. I used to have a thing with flan; didn't like the jiggle. However, it's come to grow on me, and this was a prime example of great flan. The caramel glaze on top was a nice touch--not too sugary. While not Cuban per se, the chocolate cake was our favorite. It was served with ice cream and dulce de leche and was so light that it just melted as soon as the fork touched my lips.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flan

To top everything off, Manny sent over two small glasses of tres leches liqueur. The milky drink was the perfect digestif to end this meal; it was like drinking cake. I'm going to have to find me a bottle of that sometime very soon.

From the substantial crowd and relatively affordable prices (apps. $5-$14, entrees $14-$20), to the wonderful selection of Cuban sandwiches and the fried plantains, I'd give this joint 2 thumbs up. You can catch them on Scoutmob for a $10 discount through June (check the coupon on the app for details). For the negatives, expect to wait a while for a table even if you make a reservation, and be weary of consuming a lot of grease and fried foods.

If you're really feeling like you need some more Cuban in your life, Manny wants to share his Cuban Bread Pudding recipe with all my awesome readers. If any of you make it, be sure to come back and let everyone know how it came out!

Cuban Bread Pudding

The raisins should be soaked in the rum overnight, or at least for several hours. You
can use individual ramekins or a single taking dish.

1 cinnamon stick, ground
6 tb raisins
1/4 c aged anejo rum
1 c sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in 1/2 lengthwise
1 qt heavy cream
1 whole nutmeg ground
10 egg yolks
2 c cubed slightly stale Cuban or fresh bread
3 tablespoons sugar

To prepare the bread pudding: Soak the raising in the rum overnight. Place 1
tablespoon of the sugar on the work surface. Scrape out the vanilla bean seeds onto
the sugar and smear around to coat the seeds. Place this sugar-vanilla mixture in the
saucepan and add the cream, vanilla bean, nutmeg, cinnamon, and 1/2 c of sugar.
Bring the mixture to just under a boil. Remove immediately from the heat and let steep
for 20 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until
thick and pale. Slowly whisk in a small amount of the hot cream mixture to temper the
egg mixture, stirring continuously to prevent the eggs from cooking. Add a little more
at a time until the egg mixture is warm. Slowly pour the tempered mixture into the
remaining hot cream and whisk until smooth. Pass through a fine strainer.

Strain the rum from the raisins, reserving the rum. Sprinkle the raisins in the bottom
of (whichever container you are using) add the bread cubes on top of the raisins, and
sprinkle the bread with reserved rum. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before baking.
While resting occasionally push down the bread lightly with the back of a spoon so it
absorbs more of the custard.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the mixture in a baking pan lined
with a towel (to prevent the pan from sliding). Add enough boiling water to the pan to
come about halfway up the sides. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil.

To serve, sprinkle the top with about 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Using a handheld propane
torch, caramelize the sugar all over the surface (alternatively, place under a very hot
broiler).

Remove the pan or ramekins and allow the tops to harden for a minute.

Cafecito on Urbanspoon

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