Sunday, March 04, 2007

Winning With the Old Standby (Cabana)

I had a little camera issue on my trip down to Palm Beach this weekend, so no photos. But the meal that I had at Cabana (118 S Clematis Street, West Palm Beach) was so good, I figured that I would just make people visualize. T & K (of Ultimate Wine Dinner fame) had chosen the restaurant - so I wasn't concerned, but I had no idea what to expect (especially since K couldn't remember the name and just kept saying random words starting with 'C').

It turned out to be Cuban food - something almost guaranteed to bring a smile to my face (especially with the disappointment of learning, a few weeks ago, that decent Cuban food hadn't really crossed the peninsula to Ft. Meyers - and so I had gone all the way to southern Florida without getting my Cuban fix). I looked over the menu with interest, but without real intent. I don't get to eat Cuban enough to order anything except Ropa Vieja. I love Ropa Vieja and so all I really did was find it on the menu, make sure that I could order a side of plantains and then find an appetizer (totally unnecessary as the portions were what one might term 'hearty'). Then I just had fun reading the menu - to see what else they had.

I went ahead with the plantain chips (with guacamole and a salsa) as my appetizer (something light, saving room for the Ropa Vieja). I liberally doused them with salt and found them as good as they ever are. I will say that the salsa was interesting - very finely processed and with a great deep, slightly smokey flavor. (And one that met even my need for something salty).

We paired our meal with pitchers of Sangria and Mohitos (I went with the Sangria) - there were about 20 of us, so the pitchers were a good call. K said that her first Mohito was one of the best that she had ever had. The sangria was good, but not great.

Then, the Ropa Vieja arrived. I'm almost glad that I didn't have a camera as there is no way that the picture would do justice to the flavor (it's not a dish that really wins on presentation - some of the other folks got much 'prettier' plates). Close your eyes and picture the following: A normal white dinner plate with an outer ring (about 1 inch wide) of black beans, inside that was a mound of yellow rice (only about the outer 1 inch was visible - so now you should be picturing concentric circles) and on top of the rice was a bunch of brown shredded meat (I can't describe it any other way - it really didn't look that interesting - just a big brown lump forming the center circle of the dish). Now, picture a small plate next to it with Maduros, deep fried plantains (basically (visually), brownish lumps of banana). Now, just know that this meal tasted infintely better than it looked.

I dug in, grabbing a forkful of rice and meat. It had a slight vinegar-y backdrop with a strong, rich flavor of meat over it. The rice was perfectly seasoned to help bring out the flavors of the meat. K asked for a bite (she had been torn and decided on something else as I had the Ropa Vieja) and so I told her to take as much as she wanted (I think she ended up with almost half of the meat (I dumped a whole bunch on her plate at one point as I was greatly concerned that if she didn't take it, I would eat it - and then one Wafer Thin Mint and it's all over) ).

And so, reveling in each bite, I took a bite of the Ropa Vieja and then a bite of the plantains. I continued to work my way through the combination - concentrating on draining every last bit of flavor and enjoyment out of the slightly bitter/acidic, but rich Ropa Vieja and the sweet plantains.

I can't imagine a meal that we could have had last night that I would have enjoyed more.


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