A commitment to traditional Latin flavors is the number-one priority at El Oriental de Cuba, though the kitchen staff isn't afraid to add a touch of New England flair. These bold combinations have been lauded by both local culinary and cultural institutions. Through a large, open window, diners watch as haddock is prepared spicy, garlicky, or coated in a coconut sauce, and lobster is stuffed into empanadas. In creating other dishes, the cooks reach for ingredients such as plantains, yucca, and pigeon peas, and slow-cook their meats to transport minds to Caribbean sunsets.
Though the atmosphere may be casual, the decor in the dining area isn't without touches of refinement. Sage-green walls surround the long space, whose high, peaked ceiling supports hanging lamps and fans. As guests bite into classic cuban sandwiches and fried pork chops, they gaze at colorful paintings and photographs of children playing in the old country.
Inside Chez Henri, owner and chef Paul O’Connell draws on his training at Johnson & Wales University to add Caribbean flourishes to classic French fare, earning his restaurant press accolades and seven Best of Boston awards. Appetizers include braised wild-boar sausage served over cabbage escabeche, and the pan-seared flounder entree arrives with house-made chorizo and West Indian spices. Wash down international flavors with signature cocktails and spirits or a pitcher of fruity sangria from the full bar.
Inside Chez Henri’s simply decorated dining room, handblown glass lighting illuminates warmly colored walls, and huge windows proffer views of the bustling streets between Harvard and Porter Squares. Paul and his staff also transport their delicate fare to catered events of up to 400 people, such as weddings, graduations, or the shared birthday of an NFL team made by cloning Joe Montana.