Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Miami: Finally About Cuban Food

Originally uploaded by reallyct
Clay sent me an article when I told him I was going to Miami about a place called El Palacio de Jugos, a Cuban joint run by the same family for some very long amount of time like 30 years. It was the single thing I planned to do besides tan while we were in Miami. The thing is, we weren't really in Miami. We were in Sunny Isles which is an approximately 35 dollar cab ride from downtown Miami/South Beach/Little Havana/anywhere and, therefore, a 70 dollar round trip. Which seems to be a lot to enjoy a 10 dollar meal. But the hotel did offer a shuttle to South Beach (eminently missable) which we availed ourselves of and then took a 20 dollar cab to Little Havana. But something happened in the cab. The cab driver said if we only ate in one place while we were there it should be La Esquisito.

And I seem to remember someone, probably Anthony Bourdain, saying that all things being equal, take the advice of your local cab driver on where to eat. So knowing it would probably be quite some time before I was back in Miami, we scrapped the Palace of Juices and went to La Esquisito. The first, and most important thing, to discuss about the ambiance, was the presence - it being Saturday night - of live music. Now before you conjure images of hot young Cuban salsa musicians, I would like to banish those thoughts. Instead there was a heavyset 70-year old man with a synthesizer and a microphone that was turned up way too high for a 500 square foot room. And he sang off-key. Think Murph and the Magictones from Blues Brothers, but with only one person. If it had been ever so slightly less noisy, it would have been fantastic in the way tacky things sometimes are. Fortunately, it was the low point of the meal.

As the lead-off picture I think ably demonstrates, the people of Cuba are compelled to dance all night every night to fast-paced music. This is because their food is, health-wise, DISGUSTING. The appetizer plate is composed of fried pork chunks (the yummiest), fried and breaded ham and potato croquettes (pretty damn yummy), a tamale (yummy), and some thinly sliced and fried plantains (addictively yummy). The plate you see was an appetizer destined for one person.
Then our main course was brought out and it was a mountain of food. Thank god there had been some sort of language barrier because I think we had intended to order two of these (we each wanted the same thing) but we only got one, which is good because I'm pretty sure the weight of the beans alone was in the 1.5 lbs. range. This was the braised Cuban pork and while devoted partner liked the fried pork chunks better, I could see the benefit of both dishes. This one was richer and ropier and more heavily spiced. With the garlic yucca and beans, it made one hell of a bite. (And here I would like to discuss the abject lack of vegetables available. Rice and beans and yucca are apparently what pass as vegetables. I need to do more salsa dancing, clearly.)

But as you know, I find it difficult, even when full, to refuse dessert. And devoted partner is with me on this, especially when dessert includes the words "arroz con leche." I opted for what looked like the Cuban donut or churro. It arrived, as you see, in a BATH OF SUGAR. Yes. Fried dough in a sugar soup. I'd like to tell you it was too much, too sweat, too eminently repulsive to make it down my maw. I would like to be able to tell you that the bite you see missing in this photo was the only bite taken. That would be lying to you and I do not like lying to you. We had just enough time to catch a cab back to South Beach where the shuttle waited to take us back to our hotel. I know that had I done any research whatsoever before we left, we might have gotten a better map of places to visit, but I was really pleased that we just left it to chance and a chatty cab driver because now we have one of those authentic travel moments - the kind we like to bore our friends with over dinner.

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