A fa?ade of salmon and tawny stone ringed with palm trees beckons to passersby, hinting at the tropical dishes of shrimp, roast pork, and fried plantains contained inside. Like an edible cruise ship, the bill of fare takes diners on a culinary tour of the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, with dishes of slow-cooked shredded beef, saffron-tinged rice, marinated chicken, and saut?ed fresh fish. A canopy of leafy palms surrounds private banquets or nightly dinner guests as they finish things off with a dessert of flan or guava empanadas. Next door, an international Latin marketplace invites patrons to create their own tropical feasts at home with hard-to-find grocery items from countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Puerto Rico.
In the kitchen of Bella Cuba Restaurant, flames slowly sauté and season traditional Cuban dishes. Chefs season root vegetables with mojo—a sauce made from hot olive oil, lemon juice, raw onions, garlic, and cumin—before sautéing accompanying meats in citrus marinades. The smells of the sizzling pork steaks, meat pies, and yellow tail snapper sizzling in a coconut sauce infuse the whole restaurant with the smells of Cuba, helped along by the smoke of handcrafted cigars plucked from the dining room’s humidor. After a dessert of super-moist tres leches cake, guests can sip on Cuba libres and classic Cuban mojitos that, much like a splash in a neighbor’s bird bath, give relief on a balmy day.
The sweet-sour aroma of mint and lime emanates from freshly baked mojito cookies each morning at Azucar. The added dash of chocolate chips makes the cookies a hybrid of American comfort food and Caribbean fare, a fusion that Cuban-born chef Vivian Hernandez-Jackson creates seamlessly.
Though Schooner at Sunset just came under new management, the staff isn't keen on state-of-the-art updates. Instead, they're inspired by the days when everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else, and friends frequented each other's front porches as well as local taverns.? SAS is doing its best to bring back that vibe, starting with a quirky, nautical theme that turns visitors into regulars. There are surfboards hanging from the ceiling, sailing ropes strung up in the corners, and fish singing sea shanties in a tank by the hostess stand.
In contrast to the casual decor, however, the menu is delightfully sophisticated. Its elegant versions of comfort-food classics include the toadstool burger, topped with truffle oil and sauteed garlic, and tomato soup reimagined as an heirloom gazpacho. Even the melts have received an upgrade: they're built with the catch of the day, frisee, and grilled peppers. Both these meals and weekend brunch platters pair well with the bar's craft cocktails, ranging from the citrusy Aye Aye to the rummy Dark & Stormy.