Gothamist wishes we spent more time exploring the eateries of Brooklyn, so when a friend suggested a Friday night dinner soirée at Café El Cubanito in Brooklyn Heights, we jumped at the offer.
Awash in color, Café El Cubanito is the decorative product of an indulgent trip to the home décor department at an Anthropologie store. Ever tablecloth dons a colorful pattern, wall fixtures and trinkets hang in every corner, and the dining area is dimly lit in green and orange halos emitted from Tord Boontje paper lamps. Gothamist found the setting festive and welcoming, only questioning the rubber chicken hanging beside the bathroom door.
Gothamist quickly ordered several pitchers of sangria for the table. Saturated with fruit – oranges, apples, and pineapple, the beverage disappeared before the food even arrived. Waiters arrived with a basket of fried tortilla and salsa, then two at the table started with the grilled corn, similar in taste and quality to the famous grilled corn at Café Habana (17 Prince Street @ Elizabeth).
After a friend raved about the costillas de puerco, or pork ribs with carrots, caramelized pearl onions, and balsamic vinegar sauce, Gothamist opted to indulge and was aptly rewarded for doing so. A heaping plateful of ribs, meat falling off the bone, was dressed in a tangy, rich sauce. The carrots and onions were sweet and soft to taste; the meat was addictive and flavorful. The ribs came with a small cup of yucca fries, similar to a steak fry, but slightly tougher and more filling – perfect for soaking up sauce from the ribs.
Others at the table enjoyed their meals in a similarly carnivorous fashion. One dining companion opted for the shredded beef in a light tomato sauce, ropa vieja, a healthy portion of meat with chunks of fresh tomatoes and vegetables. Another tried the pollo en champagne, the chicken with green peas and mushrooms, cooked in champagne. Both dishes came with rice and black beans – altogether hearty and filling.
One of Gothamist’s friends experimented, trying the chicken skewer served with onion, tomato, and asparagus over coconut rice. Remarking that the meat and vegetables were cooked to “just the right saltiness,” the skewers seemed another winning dish. The final dining companion (and lone male at the table) sprung for the salmon asado con vegetales, or pan seared salmon with zucchini, walnut, and thyme-lemon sauce. Served with black beans, our dining friend exuberantly declared the salmon “succulent!” as he scraped the last bit off his plate and slammed knife and fork back on the orange floral tablecloth with decided satisfaction.
Waiters, not always prompt refilling water, napkins, or replacing dropped silverware during the meal, were quick to retrieve plates and offer a selection of desserts once our table had finished our entrees. Gothamist eyed the flan, but felt the ribs screaming “heartburn” and instead had a taste of a friend’s selection, a goblet of fresh, shredded coconut in a sweet, creamy sauce. Others had cappuccinos served in decoratively mismatched cups and saucers.
A perfect locale for a moderately sized group, the décor inspires conversation and the food is tasty and filling. Whether the flavors of Café El Cubanito are authentic might be another matter, but on a Friday night, the restaurant was full and a table hard to come by. Gothamist will definitely return, for the pork ribs, to try the soups and salads, and because it’s within walking distance from Floyd, the bar with indoor bocce.
Cafe El Cubanito is located at 50 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights and is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. (718)243-2402