Sometimes we foodies just get lucky. Forget about those resto-reviews written by folks like me. Forget about reservations and research. Simply close your eyes and tap your sparkly red shoes like Dorothy. Okay, one exception: Make sure you are walking the golden culinary pathway (Roncesvalles) and throw a dart at the first appealing doorway on the street’s north end: La Cubana (392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500, lacubana.ca) .
That’s what my friend Rocca and I did last month and the place blew our not-very-Spanish socks off.
It didn’t hurt that we got the last table before a weekday lunch line started to pile up at 1pm. We stepped lightly as a server guided us towards the last vacant booth, sighing happily to claim a little territory in this highly manicured eatery that is both bright and airy, with wake-me-up colourful tiles covering the floors and a long, soda fountain-type bar separating hungry customers from a busy grill-line-cook outputting seafood and pork delights.
At La Cubana back-lit signs yell out red-lettered words from the menu, creating a mystique called hunger (if you are like us) and no entiendo.
Bocaditos, medianoche, frituras, dolce and tostones say the signs and that’s all part of La Cubana’s charm. Enter here a new world of flavours all expertly prepared, at great prices and in beautiful surroundings.
Take the sandwiches and medianoches section of the menu. You think the latter means something different, but it doesn’t. A medianoche is what any serious salsa dancer turns to for a midnight snack.
“Those are sandwiches, too,” explained our friendly server who was moving at Roadrunner speed to keep up with the lunch traffic.
“Duh,” said we in tandem and along came a most sumptuous grilled fish sandwich, its contents spilling out of a soft, sweet-dough egg bun. A big hunk of perfectly grilled pickerel resided within, wedged around avocado, pineapple salsa, red cabbage slaw and mayo making the whole thing a textural, multi-sensory delight.
We were having a girls’ lunch and sharing was part of the package. The mother-and-daughter-team beside us were in the same mode and I couldn’t help but notice they were switching between Spanish and English convo while nibbling away at a feast of small-plated bocaditos such as habanero glazed fried squid ($7), mussels with coconut and lime ($6) and tropical chips and salsa ($6).
Not us. As a Ricky Ricardo voice-alike sounded over the airwaves we happily awaited arrival of our second order: a big bowl stuffed to the brim with avocado, hearts of palm, orange segments and Bibb lettuce. This clean, fresh offering with its crunchy white, baby palm stems (memories of white asparagus) would be a winner served at a beachside cafe in Nice or Veradero.
Speaking of all-inclusive vacations to Cuba and the wretched food sagas I’ve suffered through (second-hand) via rants from returning travellers, I assure you there will be no déjà vu at La Cubana. In fact, nothing should stop you from racing across the threshold of this newly opened (November 2013) establishment as soon as possible.
Especially, if you’re a dessert hound and want to join the fresh-out-of-the-fryer donut trend that has swept across North America’s beltline.
Rocca made me do it.
She forced me to share five, TimBit-sized donuts under the dolce portion of the menu, where it says quite plainly “donuts” and doesn’t whisper to you that these
seductive little creatures have been whipped up from a buttermilk Béarnaise batter that balloons into warm, sweet, heavenly dough that’s lovingly tossed and turned in a dry bath of cinnamon sugar so that when it hits your open mouth all that comes to mind is simply x-rated.
Five dollars for five! Priceless.
Especially if you pair it with a bistro glass full of cafe con leche ($4) that rivals any latte I’ve tasted in Riverdale, especially since the last drops in the glass are pure sugar (gracias, sweetened condensed milk).
Adios La Cubana. I hope to see you again, soon.