From crisp croquetas de jamon to beef-filled empanaditas, the Cuban-style tapas at Agozar Restaurant and Lounge come flavored with the same rich, Caribbean spices that fill the childhood memories of its co-owners, siblings Gerardo Perez and Diana Mastrodimos.
?We?re from a Cuban family, [with] a Cuban grandma," Perez said. "We lived in Miami for some time, so we had traditional Cuban food almost every day. Our dad also worked in Cuban restaurants in NYC, like Victor?s Cafe, so we had that upbringing."
But in recent years, the brother-and-sister team has expanded their menu beyond the classics they remember from childhood. Today, they also serve "Nuevo-Cubano" dishes that draw on influences from Spain, Mexico, and even China, reflecting the full cultural diversity of modern Cuban cuisine.
Dishes to Discover
Those familiar with Cuban cuisine will easily recognize classic dishes at Agozar, including pressed cubaniche sandwiches, shredded ropa vieja, and citrus-marinated lechon. But there are dishes here that may surprise even the most seasoned palate. A few highlights:
Ginger-glazed "Chino-Cubano" salmon with vegetable fried rice
In the Press
* New York Magazine recommends the tapas-like small plates, which are "vibrant with spices and emboldened by fresh ingredients." * The New York Times notes the spot's "lengthy list of flavored mojitos," which draw in muddled-drink enthusiasts and also people who love to read lengthy lists.
At Mojito Cuban Cuisine, chefs parade platters of Caribbean classics and tropical cocktails through a rustic, airy lounge. At the rough-hewn wooden bar, bartenders shake up the eatery’s namesake cocktail, a mojito crafted from a recipe indigenous to Havana’s famed La Bodeguita del Medio. Brick walls, exposed ceiling beams and faded blue hues lend Mojito a vibe that New York magazine describes as “scenester-friendly and warmly inviting.”
Amor Cubano captures the delicious essence of Cuban cuisine with sumptuous brunches, lunches and dinners of juicy steaks, tender stewed meats, and tasty cocktails. Plates of grilled chorizo, flavorful ropa vieja, and mouthwatering plantains invite taste buds to a sizzling culinary salsa dance, and fresh mussels, shrimp, and fish serenade palates with Spanish-language sea shanties. Throughout the restaurant, brick accents and artwork sate optic appetites, and regular live Latin music and dancing keep toes tapping to exotic rhythms.
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.
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.