Robaina's plantation

Saturday 23 August 2014

Cerveceria Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y El Tabaco (Restaurant Review) Havana

              I should have posted this review a long time ago. I have visited this spot several times already over the span of two trips and I'll probably visit again on the next one a few days from now. It took two and a half years for a team of Historians, Engineers, Architects, Designers and Builders to bare fruit from this massive project but finally it was opened this past March 14. There has been a restoration project in the works for several years now (and still has a few years to go) for the old harbour with this giant pub, right next door to the tourist arts & crafts market, being the latest addition. Habanaguanex, a government tourist office which is involved in most every aspect of the tourism industry, is responsible for opening this 400 seat restaurant with it's great view of the bay. Even Havana's Historian, Eusebio Leal, participated at the opening. This is one of two restaurants, the other being the 'Taberna de La Muralla' in Plaza Vieja, which brew their own beer right on the premises in plane view of the customers. Three different types of beer are produced and sold here; a blonde, an amber and a dark. Which is better is a matter of personal taste and although I have never tried the other two in either of the restaurants, I always go for the amber and like it too much to try the others. Actually that may be a lie, I may have tried the others years ago at the Plaza Vieja restaurant and may not remember. With 400 seats, the place is massive and has quite a bit of seating outside as well as inside. It may have been built to attract tourist dollars but I found on all my visits that there were a fair bit of locals there as well. The warehouse was originally built in the late 18th century during a time when Havana was experiencing a boom in business. There's even an antique train parked out front which shows how goods were transferred to and from the warehouse during it's years of operation.
                Aesthetically the place is very pleasant and spacious, it has a 27 meter long bar at the far end of the building with the brewing machinery behind it in plane site of anyone who cares to look. The murals that take up a huge chunk of the wall were done by the artist Monica Pestano. It has a modern look to it and uses ramps as well as stairs but I can't tell you if they have handicap restrooms....sorry. Flat screen televisions are scattered around the room showing music videos and I had read somewhere that some kind of live entertainment is in the works for the near future. 
                As far as the food goes, I haven't tried everything on the menu yet. Prices are ok, some things are better value than others but it isn't the cheapest place in town, you can judge for yourself if you can make out the menu pictured below. My favourite item so far are the ribs, a couple of plates of those babies and a half a cylinder of beer and I'm good to go. The beer is served by the pint (2.50cuc) or chilled cylinder which holds 6 pints (12cuc). It's more expensive than a Cristal or Bucanero but still a lot cheaper by our North American standards. If you're a sandwich person, the beer sandwich was enjoyable (5cuc), it contained several different deli meats as well as pork and cheese & served with chips. The Sausage Board (5cuc) was disappointing, it only had an adequate chorizo, a questionable ham and a blood sausage with 2 crackers...I will not be having this again. I also had the Skewered Pork (4.50cuc) which I found a bit dry, maybe the chicken is better...I won't be having that again either. I would be interested in trying their Smoked Pork Loin (5.75cuc) and the Lamb or Pork Chops (3.50cuc). The grilled meats are done on a charcoal grill in the middle of the restaurant, pictured below. There were some specials worth noting that were posted on a chalkboard on the patio, namely the whole fish (12cuc), that would have been something else I would have tried.
                It's a huge space with lots of large groups showing up of either tourists or local youth or families. Smoking is permitted indoors, cigar smoking as well. I have never had a problem with service in the 4 or 5 times that I have been there. They have 50-60 staff on payroll at any given time and at any time, day or night that I've visited, there has never been a problem with my getting service. Servers have a uniform, black pants, white shirt and an apron with the restaurant's name on it. For now all is very professional, the food, service and availability of product, lets hope it continues to be that way. This is definitely one of the places that I will be visiting on every trip I take to Havana.

Cerveceria Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y El Tabaco
Ave Puerto y San Pedro, La Habana
tel. (7)8647780

The 'Beer Sandwich' (5cuc)

Pork Skewer (4.50cuc)

Pork Ribs (3.50cuc)

Sausage Board ....ham, chorizo & blood sausage (5cuc)

Sunday 3 August 2014

Quai d'Orsay 'Belicoso Royal' Edición Regional Francia 2013 (cigar review)

                  I traded for a couple of these cigars with a friend of mine who lives in France. 2000 numbered boxes of 25 cigars were released in January 2014. It weighs in at 52 x 125 (4.9"), a Petit Belicoso. The light coloured wrapper on this one was smooth and oily, it was flawless. It was hard to the touch with just a hint of give. The pre-light draw gave me dried fig and wood but it seemed like the draw was going to be a bit firm. Once lit my suspicions were confirmed, it was a bit tight, so I cut a little more off. That seemed to make it a little better. The burn was way off right from the start so I touched it up. A half inch into this cigar and I taste a sweetness, chocolate, with wood and a hint of floral. The burn continues to be off, this is a medium to strong bodied cigar.
                   I left the cigar for a moment at about the first inch mark and it went out....the burn is still off. It's still a bit stronger than a medium body, a nice full-bodied medium. Into the second quarter of this cigar and I'm picking up leather and wood....the burn is still off. The draw turned out to be ok, just a little firm.
                   Near the halfway mark and the burn is way off again and burning hotter through the middle. I had to do a major touch-up. It was starting to turn on me already, very earthy now and that hint of floral comes in for a moment. Into the third quarter of the cigar and leather is the dominant flavour now with that hint of floral coming around for a moment once again. The last quarter was earthy and it went out again...I didn't bother re-lighting.
                     This cigar was all over the place and took a bit of work to smoke with all the re-lights and touch-ups but I enjoyed it just the same. It definitely was a very interesting smoke and very young, it needs a couple of years to rest. I have one more and will put it away for a much later date. If you decide to buy a box I recommend that you stick it in the back of your humidor and try to resist temptation. This will be a much better cigar down the road.

La Flor de Cano 'Gran Cano' Edición Regional Gran Bretaña 2013 (cigar review)

                  This was one of a few cigars that a friend of mine from Turkey sent me. He was on a trip to the UK and knew I wanted something from that region and so here it is. This particular cigar didn't travel well, it had flattened out a bit and some of the wrapper was peeling off. I have a tiny vial of liquid used to repair cigars, it's called 'El Ligador' and it has done a great job of repairing a few sticks of mine that have met the same fate. I had done the touch-up a few weeks ago and although I could make out a crack or two, the liquid had done an excellent repair job. My only worry was that it might open up on me after it was lit. I can tell you now that no such thing happened and that I had no issues with this cigar, construction-wise, throughout the time that I smoked it. This cigar is known as a 'Gordito' or a 'Robusto Extra' and weighs in at 50 x 141 (5.6"). They were a 2013 release with an unknown amount of numbered boxes of 10 cigars being produced.
                   This cigar had a bumpy cap....actually kind of bumpy all over with a little give when squeezed. I tasted a bit of cedar on the pre-light draw. Once lit I picked-up big wood with earthy undertones and a hint of floral and citrus.....the draw was perfect. That hint of floral-citrus disappeared almost immediately making way for only the wood and earth with leather coming into the picture when I neared the second half. The burn was off right from the start and continued that way, to some degree or another, all the way through. I flicked the ash at the first inch and touch up the cigar with my torch.
                   The ash fell on it's own past the halfway mark and what began as a slightly stronger than medium bodied cigar was turning out to be closer to mild at this point. Very smooth for a cigar this young, I actually couldn't tell that this cigar was only a year old. The final half was all about leather and wood and I was able to smoke it down to the end with no unpleasant flavours creeping in. It did go out a couple of times and the burn was still off but otherwise an excellent cigar.
                   I didn't find this cigar very complicated at all but I was very surprised at how smooth it was for a such a young cigar. I don't know what a little time will do to it but I can tell you it's smoking pretty good right now. If the price is right and you're not into overly strong cigars, I suggest you try this one if you can get your hands on it. It would also be a good cigar for a novice cigar smoker.