Despite its distance from the Caribbean, the aroma of grilled plantains and seafood inside Havana Cabana firmly plants diners in a laid-back island oasis. The signature house paella, for one, gathers specialties from the region into one dish with a dizzying combination of scallops, shrimp, calamari, clams, chorizo, and chicken. Roasted Caribbean lobster tail is another crowd pleaser, simply plated with spinach, diced veggies, and a hot scampi butter sauce. But there's another reason people flock to spend time here?the rum. With more than 100 varieties, it's no surprise that bartenders here are experts on how to serve and mix the Caribbean spirit, even offering advice on pairings. Rum flights also give guests the chance to mix and match three rums, whether they want to sample the differences between a spiced, aged, and white rum or to test the social acceptability of using one as a dipping sauce for plantains.
At Label 7, fresh ingredients such as crisp shaved fennel and gruyere cheese garnish entrees inspired by the light, healthy cuisine of California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Wicker chairs flank tables in the softly lit indoor dining room. Oversized white flowerboxes stand guard along the perimeter of a canal-side patio, where a brigade of umbrellas shields patrons from splashing during nearby diners? attempts to literally wade through the wine list.
Mojito House's celebration of Cuban culture not only happens on the plate, but on the dance floor as well. Its menu showcases quintessentially Cuban dishes including shrimp flamb?ed in Havana Club white rum, as well as ropa vieja sandwiches with saut?ed peppers, onions, swiss, and a red wine and balsamic reduction. The restaurant's titular cocktail isn't just a solid pairing for a meal. A few sips may also encourage guests to shuffle onto the dance floor, where salsa, bachata, and merengue dancing is championed and practicing yoga poses is strongly discouraged. Dance lessons on Wednesday nights help beginners hone their moves, which they can show off every other Saturday in front of a live Latin band.
Soccer, dancing, and food?that's one plausible recipe for a happy life, and Babaluu has supplied all three ingredients for the past two decades. The restaurant is a celebration of Latin America's favorite pastimes, from the complimentary salsa classes Wednesday through Sunday to the aji panca spices in the marinade for the Peruvian-style chicken. As international soccer plays on TV, bartenders blend margaritas and deftly remove the corks and tiny ships from wines from Argentina and Chile.
Babaluu's ambience and food changes throughout the week. On Wednesdays and Sundays, chefs fill a tapas menu with the likes of Colombian empanadas and fish tacos. In the days between, they serve more substantial entrees, such as beef tenderloin in a red-wine demi-glace. No matter the night (except Monday and Tuesday, when the restaurant is closed), the setting transforms at the strike of 10 p.m. The lights dim, the twinkle of candlelight flecks the stone and wood walls, and a house DJ spins tunes for Babaluu's signature After Dark event. Come at another time, and the special event might be a regional wine tasting.