HABANA 61 in Old Havana, Cuba

June 14, 2017

in Food for Thought,International,home

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HABANA 61
61 Habana
Habana Viejo, Cub

Food: Service: Nestled on one of the tiny cross streets at the edge of Old Havana, is a tiny storefront, which has only recently been converted to a charming eatery, known simply as HABANA 61! Despite the fact that the restaurant is named for its address, it can be a bit troublesome to locate, as not all the streets and tiny avenues that criss-cross Old Havana are found to have proper signage. Local knowledge is always a plus, and this author is fortunate to have a fair amount of experience strolling the narrow corridors of Old Havana.

Front Door View of Habana 61

Habana is actually the name of one the small cross streets which originate near the Museum of the Revolution, former Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Batista’s palatial home, which has been converted to a museum to the Revolution which overthrew his regime in 1959. The restaurant occupies a cozy spot in an otherwise undeveloped section of the block. The interior is tiny, capable of accommodating 28-30 guests, with a large service bar/barista station located along one side of the space. Modern time-lapsed photo-murals of Havana after dark grace the walls, and while compact, it offers a warm, modern and genuinely welcoming environment.

Habana Croquettas

The menu was simple, and in keeping with many Cuban menus, you’ll find photo copied sheets inside plastic page protectors, in an embossed menu jacket. It contained a long list of cocktails available, starters, entrees and desserts. The page featuring the entrée  selections was separated into 2 categories…Traditional Cuban and Modern Cuban…which made for interesting reading. The traditional portion was just that…what you would expect in practically every restaurant in the country, while the modern portion offered an interesting variety of protein choices and preparations.

Our server, who was bi-lingual, and quite pleasant, greeted our table like he was really glad to see us! To begin, we ordered bottled water, my guest selected a red Sangria, and I, a glass of Spanish Verdejo, crisp and clean, yet offering a

Habana Ceviche

lovely roundness in its flavor profile. For starters we selected Croquetas and Seviche. Neither carried more of a descriptor than the simple name, ostensibly allowing the chef the freedom and flexibility to create based on availability. Our starters soon arrived, and were beautiful in presentation! The Croquetas were five seasoned potato croquettes, each about 2″ in length, uniformly positioned atop a bed of aioli, garnished with a thin line of “Mojito Pesto”, a pinch of fruit salsa and a parsley leaf. They were crispy, yet tender and moist; perfectly enhanced by the rich, garlicky aioli. The ceviche was light and flaky cubes of light white fish, marinated in lemon and lime juices, with paper thin shavings of red and green bell peppers, red onion and some diced white onion. A touch of cilantro added yet another intriguing level of flavor to this dish. It was positioned on a lettuce leaf, and like the Croquetas, garnished with a similar line of “Mojito Pesto” and fruit salsa.

Habana Lobster

Our plates were cleared and entrees soon were positioned before us. My guest had selected the Cuban traditional dish, “Ropa Vieja” while I had opted for the Cuban Lobster Tail from the Modern Cuban portion of the menu. The “Ropa Vieja” (Spanish for old clothes) is forever braised beef, usually flank steak, cooked in a rich, aromatic broth. After being cooked for hours, the meat is pulled part into long threads, resembling old, torn clothes. This offering was rich and delicious. The sauce was thick, thoroughly coating the meat, featuring several julienne threads of colorful bell peppers and onions peeking out of the dense stew.

My Lobster tail was actually two slipper tails, each about 3-4 oz positioned in opposing directions on the plate, with some small cubes of fruit salsa scattered atop and around the tails. Portions of the shells had been trimmed back, allowing the meat of the tails to be positioned atop one another. These were lightly grilled, then finished in the oven. They were perfect in flavor, density and texture. Like our starters, each entrée plate was garnished with a thin line of “Mojito Pesto”, and a

Habana Ropa Vieja

pinch of fruit salsa. These were served with communal sides of white rice and stewed black beans, a Cuban standard.

We cleaned our plates, and as our server was removing them from the table, he used the opportunity to suggest deserts and coffees. My guest selected the flan, a Cuban standard, and a Cappuccino, while I opted to enjoy a Cafesito, or Espresso. The flan was lovely, dense and delicious. It was a clever variation on the traditional flan, instead of being baked in an individual mold, it was baked in a deep baking pan, then portioned into rectangular pieces, garnished with chocolate sauce and graham cracker crumbs. The cappuccino was also beautiful and delicious; the espresso base was layered with dense frothed milk, then dusted with cinnamon, while my Espresso was rich and very strong!

After all was said and done, our bill was presented, and proved to be a deliciously inexpensive outing. As with all reviews, I ask myself, “would I return?” The answer is without a doubt! The ambience was charming, the staff was pleasant and the menu was clever, offering both traditional as well as modern Cuban dishes. Prices were inexpensive, service was timely and the food was very tasty! I also ask myself, “would I recommend this restaurant to others?” Once again, the answer is yes!

This author strongly recommends making reservations at Habana 61, rather than simply dropping by. As mentioned, it is a very small capacity restaurant, that has attained great popularity in recent months. Your hotel concierge should be able to arrange this for you. So if you find yourself in Old Havana, looking for a nice, inexpensive spot to enjoy a meal, venture out to Habana 61, and tell them Les Noteworthy from DinnerReviews.com sent you!

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