Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cubacan Asbury Park, New Jersey

A balmy Summer night and a group of us headed to Cubacan for my friend's birthday dinner. I was excited to try Cubacan because it recently opened and I have heard great things about it. We had a reservation for a large party and they would not seat us until we all arrived. We decided to head over to the bar and grab a refreshment while we waited. With a tropical elegance and amazing view of the beach I knew we picked a great spot to share my friend's special day. As a few of my friends started off with fruity libations, such as the seasonal mojito, I decided on getting a crisp glass of pinot grigio. The bartender however recommended a Spanish white wine, Verdejo. It was similar to an Italian pinot grigio and very good. To add to the Cuban theme there was a DJ playing Latin music. The music was so enjoyable that my friends and I found ourselves salsa dancing in our seats.

Shortly after the rest of our party arrived the hostess seated us. Even though it was a gorgeous night we opted for indoor seating since we had such a large group. Almost immediately the server brought warm bread to the table, accompanied with a creamy mango butter. I can not lie I could have eaten the butter with a spoon! It was smooth and buttery, mixed with bits of a mango marmalade. Delish!

We all decided to order a number of appetizers, including chicken and sausage empanadas, camarones fritos or fried shrimp, the civeche tasting, and mejillones, mussels steamed in a coconut, lime, cilantro, chili sauce. The appetizers were good. The mussels were the most amazing! They were presented in a large ceramic pot with a generous amount of mussels swimming in the creamy coconut broth. The broth was so delicious that we ordered another round of bread just for dipping! The ceviche was very good too. A trio of 3 different ceviches, each flavorful and citrusy, served with plantain crisps, it was a nice light option on a hot Summer night.

I was completely undecided about which entree to choose for dinner. Cubacan offers a Cuban inspired menu serving specialties like baby back ribs smoked in a papaya glaze, marinated skirt steak served with chimichurri, numerous seafood dishes including seafood paella, seared salmon served with rice and chicken dishes such as a grilled chicken breast topped with baby greens and jicama. I ended up deciding on a seafood combo mix. The Mariscada included red snapper, mussels, scallops, clams and came with your choice of a white wine sauce or a spicy red sauce. I opted for the white wine sauce. I was not overly impressed with the dish. The flavor was good but for $28 the seafood was quite scant. The snapper was fulfilling, juicy and cooked to perfection, however the clams and mussels were mediocre and small. It seems most of the dishes come a la carte so it didn't come with rice or pasta. If we did not order all the apps I would have been left wanting something more. My friend had the seafood paella, which came in a large lidded pot, great for presentation but uninspiring on the inside. The paella included chicken, chorizo, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, and rice. Once again the seafood was smaller than expected and the chicken was noticeably over cooked. I shared some of the rice with her and that too was quite boring.

Of course we topped off the evening with a Happy Birthday serenade and an array of desserts. I had the coconut ice cream which was simple and delicious! Refreshing and creamy, the coconut ice cream included bits of fresh shaved coconut mixed in, something that good must have been home made! The apple pie a la mode, a tradition American fave, was average, but for a Cuban restaurant, pretty good. With the birthday girl being an avid chocoholic we ordered her the flour less chocolate cake. Deep, dark, and decadent the warm cake served with the vanilla ice cream made for an excellent combination. I enjoyed a taste which was rich and satisfying enough for me. The birthday girl loved it!

Overall it was a great evening. Cubacan has a great vibe and a casual elegance about it. I was not overly impressed with the food, but the service and atmosphere made up for it. I definitely would not count this place out yet and would return for the mussels!

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