Robaina's plantation

Sunday, 7 September 2014

San Cristobal Paladar (Restaurant Review) Havana

                Oh my gosh, why didn't I come here sooner (this place has been open for 4 years already). A couple of my Cuban friends have been telling me for some time now that this was the place to visit. However, as always, time is too short to go everywhere. But before coming to Cuba on this trip a friend of mine from Canada, who comes to Cuba often, told me a visit to this restaurant paladar was a must and so we went. After all, if it was good enough for Beyonce & JayZ on their trip to Cuba, it couldn't be that bad. Yes, this is one of the restaurants the famous couple visited while in Havana this past year. They weren't the ones to choose it, an agency did it for them but a huge recommendation just the same. Now that the whole world knows about this place reservations are a must.
                  Unless you are recommended to come here there is no way you would eat at this restaurant. It's located in one of the worst areas of the city and unless you know of it's existence you wouldn't come this way or ever think anything good would come out of it. The place is overwhelming from the time you step into it, you don't know where to look. It's decor is the equivalent of a Cuban roadhouse but without the chicken wings and hamburgers. Old Cuban memorabilia and photographs are scattered everywhere throughout the restaurant from the entrance, through the main room and spilling into the several private eating spaces that used to be bedrooms or sitting rooms at one time. It's almost like walking into a museum. Even the bathrooms are decorated in the same manor. It wasn't too busy on this particular night due to the combination of it being low season and also because they had been closed several weeks for holidays, they had only reopened that week....most people didn't know that it was open for business once again. Getting back to the decor....there is a whole lot of Havana's history starting from pre-revolution days hanging on the restaurant walls and sitting on furniture and pedestals everywhere you look. There's also a little bit of the whimsical....for example, 89 clocks are hanging on the walls, with their goal being to reach 100. There's plenty to keep you occupied while you wait for your food.
                The prices aren't bad and as a matter of fact my Canadian friend told me the prices have come down since the time they opened. We were 7 adults and with the 2 bottles of wine (at $85) and many shots of rum and several cocktails (try the Mojito frappe), the bill was $260 before gratuity. It may sound like a lot but we all had appetizers, main courses and desserts. By my standards, that isn't too much. For starters I ordered the mixed appetizer for 2 which easily could have served more...we ordered 3 for the table. A nice variety of items as you can see from the picture for only $6. Next time I want to try the breaded and fried lobster pieces for $9. As for my main course I had the Lamb Stew done in the Cuban style in a red wine sauce. It was by far the best I've had....very tasty and tender. I would definitely recommend this and once I try a few of the other items, I would have it again. The Tentacion Habanera, Beef Strips done in a Grandmother sauce (beef stew) at $9.50 wasn't bad, I've tried far worse. The beef in Cuba isn't the best and this one wasn't quite as tender as I would have liked but as I said, it was better than most. The Cazuela de Pescado (fish stew) at $7 was very tasty. It came to the table served in the traditional clay bowl that it was cooked in....still sizzling (check the splash marks from sauce on the doily in the picture below). The skewered shrimp were abundant and a fair size at $10. The last dish and the most expensive at $12, the Solomillo de Rez, Sirloin Steak in a peppercorn sauce, was horrible. Ohh, there was peppercorn alright, way too much, so much that it was inedible not just to me but also to the Cuban who ordered it. There was plenty of food to go around so we just gave her a little from each one of our plates and there was still more than enough left for ourselves. The main courses don't come with sides and would need to be ordered if someone cares to have one. The mixed vegetables actually looked fresh rather than frozen but the mashed potatoes ($3) were to die for & could easily have been shared between 2 or 3 people. It's hard to find potatoes in Cuba, I was told they grow the potatoes on the roof. I'm going to have to come back during the day sometime and take a complete tour of the place and interview the owner. They had a decent selection of desserts with ice cream included but I'll reserve that for another time (try the 3 chocolate dessert at $5). All in all, the food was good with a few other dishes on my list of things to try for the future.
                  Now for the service.... Upon entering the restaurant, the child that was with us was given a couple of little toys to keep him occupied (and to keep), what a wonderful gesture. Also, a lot of positive attention was given to child the entire time we were there. Our waiter, Josne, was excellent, very attentive, polite and patient. The entire staff was very pleasant and at any given time someone is there who can speak several languages, English being one of them. Carlos, the chef and owner, went around (when not cooking) to all the tables to make sure everything was okay. He's a big black man who always has a smile on his face, of course why wouldn't he, his restaurant is the talk of the town right now. When we finally left, the women were given a little broach as a reminder of their visit to the restaurant...another nice gesture. The owner's full name is Carlos Cristobal who was born on Nov.16 (1963) which is the anniversary of  the first mass that was held in the town of San Cristobal de La Habana (Havana). That makes this a fitting name for the restaurant. I almost forgot to mention, we (the men) were offered a complimentary cigar and a shot of excellent rum after dinner.
                 This has now become one of my go-to places for future trips. I strongly recommend my readers to try it but as I said, make sure you make a reservation.

San Cristobal Paladar
San Rafael no. 469 e/ Lealtad y Campanario
Centro Habana, Havana
tel. (7)867-9109 or (7)860-1705

Entrance to Kitchen

Main Dining Area

Mezedes de La Casa - Mixed Appetizer Platter ($6)

Brocheta de Camarones - Skewered Shrimp ($10)

Cazuela de Pescado - Fish Stew ($7)

Tentacion Habanera - Havana Temptation (Beef Stew) ($9.50)

Chilidron de Cordero Cubano - Cuban Style Lamb Stew ($8.50)

Solomillo a La Plancha - Sirloin Steak in Pepper Sauce ($12)

Mashed Potatoes ($3)

Three Chocolate Cake ($5)

Chef/Owner and his Crew

Myself with the Chef/Owner Carlos Cristobal

Myself with our Waiter Josne

San Cristobal

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