In 2002, entrepreneur Jeremy Merrin teamed with fellow restaurant mogul Arlene Spiegel and head chef Stanley Licairac to establish Havana Central, a family-friendly enterprise based on lively Latin music and the rich flavors of Cuban cuisine. The food of Cuba draws from disparate influences across the globe⎯Spanish, French, African, Chinese, and indigenous cultures⎯manifesting into tender skirt-steak ropa vieja, empanadas stuffed with savory meats and goat cheese, and salmon, chicken, and shrimp marinated in tangy citrus juices.
Though the restaurant's leafy palms and tropical cocktails hint at the freewheeling good times of 1950s Havana, the staff pairs their joie de vivre with social responsibility, specifically by donating to local charities and taking on numerous green initiatives. As guests sip mojitos and sangria and sup upon slow-roasted meats and chicken sofrito, a lineup of live entertainment keeps feet moving in rhythm. Interactive events include salsa-dance lessons, charanga bands, and reenactments of the charge up San Juan Hill.
Renowned executive chef Ricardo Cardona has made his mark catering to several high-profile clients, including the New York Yankees and their opponents. Under his helm at Sofrito, several chefs well-versed in the art of Latin cooking deliver dishes full of zest and flavor. They saut? tilapia with a smattering of garlic and olive oil, tuck shrimp inside tacos, and season vegetable paella with ample spices. Dishes can be washed down with glasses or glass slippers filled with chilled sangria. On select nights, a DJ takes set up shop and part of the dining room is transformed into a dance floor.
As lively Latin music plays, guests?including celebrities such as P. Diddy?sidle up to white-clothed tables to eat large portions of Sofrito Puerto Rican Cuisine?s authentic oxtail soup, fried green plantains, and skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. They can also visit the bar area, where bartenders make specialty cocktails out of fresh fruit in front of a blue-backlit bar. DJ sets and live music keep guests entertained every night of the week, and a strict dress code?no sneakers or hats?ensures that diners do not impersonate professional baseball players.