Tonight I accompanied Sabena to Cuba Café in Chelsea, after we decided it would be impossible to ever be fed at Tía Pol. Cuba is a cute, rather large restaurant at 8th Avenue and 20th Street, full of the standard Cuban decorations and paintings.
I had a bad feeling about the place from the start. I’m not really one for tramping the streets looking for food. I like to eat out based on the recommendation of a trusted friend—there’s just too much crap in this city, and finding a “hidden gem” can be an expensive hobby. My bad feelings were escalated by the five-minute wait for menus, and the lack of drink prices on those menus when they finally arrived. I ordered a beer anyway, because I figured I’d need one! Not very hungry at this point, I ordered the salmon, which would allegedly be crusted with crab meat and served on spinach with a saffron broth. It was $17.95 (everything on the menu was $XX.95—why not just round up 5 cents and have a much more tasteful menu?), practically the same price as every other main dish. Sabena ordered guacamole and shrimp in a court bouillon of some sort.
The first thing to come to the table was bread, in a strange wooden box. Astonishingly, these little rolls were excellent. They felt stale when I picked up the first one of three that I ate, but when I broke into it it was soft, buttery, sweet, and cheesy. We asked what it was, and the answer was cheese bread. Good bread is a good omen.
My salmon arrived a few minutes later. The presentation was elegant, and the flavor was much better than expected. I devoured that fish—that is, until I found a curly black hair in the bed of spinach. I’m not one to make a big stink over such a thing, but Sabena, a former food professional, insisted I bring it to their attention. The server was nice, I was nice, everyone was nice. She asked if I wanted to see the manager and maybe get a dessert on the house, and I said that wouldn’t be necessary. I was surprised, frankly, that my beer wasn’t even comped. Especially since it was spinach, and for all I knew it was downright furry.
If you’re on 8th Avenue and you really need to find a restaurant, the food here is above average, and you’d probably do pretty well. Sabena enjoyed everything she ate, and overall I can’t talk too much trash. That hair, though, yikes…