Havana Alma de Cuba, 94 Christopher St NYC, www.havananyc.com
From the outside this Greenwich Village jewel appears inconspicuous – a small storefront without the ubiquitous street-side tables that draw attention and create the feel of a European bistro. Inside there’s plenty of seating in several rooms but we chose to sit in their lovely outdoor backyard garden, a stone patio under a large awning surrounded by plantings, a subtle waterfall and decorated with peacock figurines and real feathers. We arrived on the early side (5:30) as we had tickets at the nearby Barrow St Theater and had our pick of choice tables.
To begin our journey to Havana we perused their assortment of Mojito cocktails and chose Original Mojitos served with lots of fresh mint and a large stick of sugar cane that sorbs the rum and is great to chew. On a warm summer’s eve they were nearly perfect, and after adding a bit more ice which the waiter promptly delivered, even more so. They also serve them by the pitcher which would have been tempting if we didn’t have to stay awake for 2.5 hours of Shakespeare following dinner. Our neighbors at the next table were enjoying a pitcher of homemade Sangria which looked equally as tempting.
The menu is quite broad with lots of options but it doesn’t take 10 minutes to read and leave you scratching your head. They preserve the Spanish names but descriptions are in English. There are enough choices that the college-aged Vegan seated at the next table with her family found something suitable but needed the waiter’s patient assistance – the black beans are not vegan (which is probably why they taste so good).
For starters we sampled the Fufu con Camarones/Chicharrones, which is mashed plantains and diced shrimp with greens and cherry tomatoes served with a warm dressing on the side. The plantains resemble mashed potatoes and in this sense are Cuban comfort food but combined with the shrimp take on a gourmet persona. This fabulous sweet and savory combo was delicious – served in this manner it would be easy to use lesser quality miniature shrimp but from the taste and appearance clearly the chef chose to dice the large and very tasty variety.
The sides were so tempting we decided to get several of them in lieu of one of the entrees. The Tamal Cubano, a roasted pork tamale wrapped in a corn husk was exquisite but the Chimichurri
Maiz a la Parrilla, a grilled corn on the cob with chili mayo and Cotija cheese was disappointing. The corn was overcooked and mushy and wasn’t nearly as good as one I had at El Verano Taqueria watching the Mets at Citifield.
The entrees are mostly variations on traditional Cuban dishes (the arroz con pollo was calling me) but in the end we shared their version of Cuban red snapper. Two generous snapper fillets were breaded in green plantain crust and fried to a crispy brown while the fish remained moist and flavorful. The fish is topped with avocado and served over mashed sweet plantains (which assume yet another role in this incarnation) with sofrito rice
We unfortunately had no room for dessert as the choices sounded great (including coconut milk soaked sponge cake, warm chocolate cake with molten core, and coffee caramel flan) so we’ll have to make a return. The prices at Havana Alma De Cuba were moderate (less than Victor’s uptown) and the ambiance quieter and more tasteful than Havana Central in the theater district. Highly recommended.