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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

Cuban food at Cafe Havana in New Jersey

Posted March 16, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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BY S.J. GINTZLER | FOR THE STAR-LEDGER

It’s all in the family at Cafe Havana, an engaging Cuban eatery in Middlesex. Chef-owners Miguel and Rita Sanchez serve pollo asado (roast chicken), masas de puerco (crisp seasoned pork chunks) and frijoles negros (black bean soup), based on relatives’ recipes.

Ambience:

Open 18 months, Cafe Havana is housed in a refurbished white stucco structure decorated with painted palm trees. A lengthy bar (open until 2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays) and two dining rooms comprise the interior. The main room is brightened by a Caribbean mural and family photos. A band entertains one Saturday night a month. There are Latin dance lessons on Thursday nights.

Food:

Well prepared home- style Cuban. A loaf of crusty pressed garlic bread was served. Mojitos ($5.50) were a refreshing balance of rum, lime juice, sugar cane juice, splash of soda and ground mint leaves, shaken with ice.

Appetizers were excellent. A special seafood soup ($4.95) was a soul-satisfying brew of shellfish and vegetables in a sofrito- sparked broth (sofrito is a Latin American sauce of slow-cooked onion, peppers and garlic). Juicy mango and pineapple over greens ($4.50) made an invigorating salad. Bonitas rellenos ($6.95), a hearty helping of sweet potatoes filled with ground beef in a robust sofrito sauce, was a meal in itself. We’ve never had a better ceviche ($7.95)—tangy tilapia “cooked” in lime juice, strewn with chopped tomato, green and red peppers, red onion and cilantro.

Entrees kept up the tasty pace. Baked tilapia ($19.95, a special) was complemented by a chilled, slightly spicy corn and pepper salsa. A savory enchilado de camarones ($14.95) had medium shrimp swimming in a thick sauce of tomato, green and red pepper, onion, garlic, shrimp stock and seasonings. Picadillo a la Criolla ($12.95), a plate piled with ground beef punctuated with potatoes and green olives, wasn’t visually interesting, but tasted great. White rice accompanied the entrees.

A sandwich Cubano ($6.75) was exemplary: sliced, slow- roasted pork, sweet ham, Swiss cheese and pickles layered and pressed on mustard-smeared Cuban bread and accompanied by mariquitas (deep-fried green plantain slices).

Also on the menu: garlic shrimp-stuffed green plantains ($7.95, a special), lechon asado (roast pork, $12.95), rabo encen dido (oxtail braised in red wine, $14.95), ropa vieja (shredded beef stew, $13.95).

Dinner ended on a high note with a fine flan, tres leches (white cake drenched with sweetened condensed milk) and cups of creamy cafe con leche.

Dinner at Cafe Havana was an all-around delight. If you love Cuban cooking, make a reservation now.

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