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The Flavors of Havana at HAVANA HOUSTON

We all know every city has remarkable culinary secrets, only reserved for “the few and the chosen”. We have just found one of them: “Havana Houston”. Owned by Hanoi Simanca and Jesus Cabeza -of course from Cuba-, they have gathered their extensive backgrounds as restaurateurs to develop a true Cuban treasure that tops all of my previous Caribbean discoveries of the past 33 years of tasting some of the best cuisines in the nation.

Cuban restaurants across the country are very casual and rustic, almost as if you were in the island. Unlike most other Cuban restaurants, Havana Houston offers a warm and inviting ambience, a white tablecloth dining experience, accompanied by a violinist and pianist alternating nightly. Starting with the ambience and decoration, this is another world, worked to the smallest detail. Everywhere you turn, there is something to admire and enjoy.

Within the city of Houston, you will come across many great Cuban restaurants. However, Houston’s unquestionable best Cuban flavors are to be found in Memorial, right off Memorial Drive at Dairy Ashford. No one that appreciates Cuban food, and is willing to take the risk of getting addicted, can afford not to visit Havana Houston.

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The kitchen of Havana Houston goes beyond the island’s style: This is what I would call a refined international cuisine with a wide variety of dishes from the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe, all merged together with a fusion from the most popular and authentic dishes and flavors of Cuba.

Let’s start our visit with some great appetizers, such as the Tuna Tartare with Guacamole, a fresh ahi tuna tartare with lemon oil, mint sauce and sesame seed oil, or the Guajiro Sampler Platter, stuffed toston cups with béchamel sauce, ham and cheese; fried maduros, fried yucca in chimichurri sauce, and fritura de Malanga.

The Steamed Mussels in Green Chili Coconut Sauce, seasonal mussels cooked in chili lime coconut sauce, white wine and cilantro, or the Cubano Sampler, composed of ham croquettes, a chicken & cheese empanada, a beef empanada, stuffed plantains with shrimp, and beef stuffed potatoes. The Beef Carpaccio, a thinly sliced beef tenderloin topped with shallots, parsley, balsamic reduction, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, also makes a great choice. Perhaps you may decide to go with the Cheese Plate, an assortment of cheese, grapes, nuts, crostini, and spice quince paste.

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The soups include Split Green Peas Soup, a unique twist with asiago and crema, or the Potato and Leek Soup, silky smooth creamy potato and leek soup topped with Manchego cheese and fresh green onion.

When it comes to the salads, you don’t want to miss the Havana Houston Salad, a spring mix tossed with three radishes, carrots, quinoa, avocado, enoki mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and apple vinaigrette, or the Baked Goat Cheese Salad, combining spinach and baby arugula, goat cheese crostini with pomegranate seeds and balsamic vinaigrette. The Cuban Salad, Lettuce, tomato, avocado, cucumber and lemon vinaigrette make another favorite.

Now let’s move to the meats. The Veal Piccata with Capers Lemon Butter Sauce, is a delicious thin sliced veal filet pan seared in lemon butter sauce, with fricase of fingerling potatoes and french green beans. Another great option is the Fire-grilled Filet Mignon, an 8 ounce Prime Mignon served with scalloped potatoes, broccolini with a port wine reduction sauce, or the Grilled Caribbean Ribeye Steak, a 12-ounce Rib-eye seasoned with Caribbean spices, stuffed potato croquette and sautéed baby carrots, served with green peppercorn sauce.

And of course, you can’t pass up the unique Cuban signature: Ropa Vieja, shredded beef slowly cooked in criolla sauce and red wine, served with green fried plantains, or the Osso Bucco, braised in a red wine and Cuban spices served with crimini barley and baby carrots.

For those who prefer pork or chicken, options include the Oven Roasted Herb Chicken, a roasted airline chicken breast atop a cannellini and sausage stew topped with chorizo broth, or the Chairman’s Reserve Premium Pork Double Bone Tomahawk Chop, an oven roasted double bone pork chop, sautéed fingerling potato, asparagus, and dried figs with a Madeira wine reduction.

Other house specialties, now from the seas, include The Skuna Bay Salmon, a fresh cilantro and tomato curry wild rice, sautéed asparagus with a mango sauce, or the 7 Mares Paella. A Cuban version of this classic saffron rice dish guarantees seafood in every bite; loaded with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, crab, lobster and fish. You may also consider trying the Varadero Lobster, made from lobster chunks in a creamy béchamel sauce served with mascarpone spinach risotto.

All recipes are original creations of Chef Nelson Duarte. Allow me to stress the clear distinction between a chef and a cook. A cook will put together a dish from a recipe. A chef will create, improvise, and compose a delicious dish from scratch, and make it as unique as you please. And this is what happens at the “Chef Table”. Inside this private room for a small VIP group, you are greeted by the Chef Duarte himself through a private door connecting right into the kitchen. Here your dream dish will become a reality, right out of your own imagination. Anything and everything is possible.

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The wine list includes the best options from the top producers in the world. Now, let’s be clear, a perfect dining experience must end with a magnificent dessert and a cappuccino or an espresso. Under the creations of Argentinian pastry chef,Claudio Fotti, you are guaranteed to seal your lunch or dinner like royalty.

The desserts alone are an invitation to keep you coming back. Options include the Yuca Buñuelos, a traditional Cuban dessert made from yuca in sweet syrup, or the Grand Marnier Double Chocolate Cake, a soft and amazing chocolate cake lovers fantasy. The Crème brûlée, traditionally a French dessert, is another favorite. Now imagine this one: Hazelnut & Mocha Cake, milk chocolate covered dome of hazelnut mocha cake mix adorned with gold leaf edible garnish. A true delight!

New York Style Cheesecake with Guayaba Sauce, made famous in New York for its creaminess is a favorite. The Mango Mousse with Raspberry Sauce, is a mango mousse custard square cupped shaped and filled with raspberry sauce. Finally, the Hand Crafted Gelatos, made fresh weekly at Havana Houston, are creamy and rich Italian style gelatos with flavors such as Vanilla, Mango, Rum Raisin, Lemon or Whisky.

Havana Houston offers live music nightly but exclusively on Thursday’s they offer a “Cuban night” where you can enjoy the owner’s signature 15-year-old recipe for Mojitos and have the opportunity to dance authentic cuban salsa at the patio.

Sundays the restaurant is closed, but they are ready to open it to host your private event. Additionally, they offer catering and even their chef is available to come to your home to make your private party an occasion to remember.

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The patio offers the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in the midst of a gorgeous decoration. Now is the perfect time of the year to enjoy it.

I thought I would never say this in a review, but a visit to the restroom is a must you can’t afford to miss. This is an experience of its own. On a final note, the complimentary valet is always a major plus.

Ready to be spoiled at Houston’s top Cuban adventure? Join me at Havana Houston! 5 Estrellas.

Category: COMIDA