TV EYE The revolution will be televised.
As restaurant themes go, there must be some odder than that of Cuban Revolution. Perhaps a quiet Moscow bistro that celebrates the ideals of capitalism with film clips of John D. Rockefeller and Donald Trump. But endless replays of Che Guevara shaking hands with a beaming Chairman Mao on a long row of small black-and-white TVs? That's the province of Providence.
This is said in good-natured fun, because the place deserves a warm-hearted abrazo for its offerings. I love this ironic evolution, with icons of Joe McCarthy fever dreams turned to commercial use. And the food is good.
The decor includes stylized portraits of Fidel and Malcolm X, Che and John Lennon, MLK and JFK, like a free association flashback to the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Food and politics is an appropriate combination, seeing that the place was opened in 2001 by chef Mary Morabito and her husband Edward, former chief of staff to Gov. Almond. Then it was a hole in the wall on Washington Street, with little more than two dozen seats. It later expanded nearby, on Aborn Street next to Gracie's, where I visited recently, and to a sprawling former mill space in Olneyville. On the momentum of that ambition, four years ago a Cuban Revolution opened in Durham, North Carolina.
You'll have to go twice, once for lunch so you can have a Cubano, the traditional Cuban sandwich ($7.25), pressed like Italian panini, with roast pork, salami, ham and swiss, both mayo and mustard — and don't tell them to hold the pickles, a mandatory inclusion. To super-size it, order "El Gordo" (the Fat One), $9.75 for double meats. Another standard dish I've enjoyed there is ropa vieja, literally "old clothes," a thick tomato-based stew composed mainly of shredded flank steak, a cup or bowl for $5 or $6, or on a platter over rice for $15.
In my notes, I wrote "enormously loud," even though the place wasn't very full, so this might be a consideration if you're annoyed at having to raise your voice in conversation, as we had to. But my friend Susan and I were soon distracted by our menu choices.
Appetizers here are listed as tapas, a reminder that one can nibble away a sizable appetite by having several small dishes instead of an entrée. Such items I've enjoyed there include their excellent sweet potato "Che" fries ($5), which are crunchy, as touted on the menu. If memory serves, the small bowl of them these days is more generous in quantity than the saucerful I'd had a few years ago. With those fries I recently had a jibarito "steakwich" ($8), shredded steak with Swiss cheese as well as tostones (fried green plantains), which fit the bill nicely. They also have yucca fries ($4), with a garlic dip, which sound interesting.
But neither of us was inordinately hungry, so we went straight for the main dishes, to save room for a dessert. Susan had the garlic shrimp tropical ($17), pleased with the jumbo crustaceans sautéed with garlic in olive oil and finished with a splash of sherry. On yellow rice, they were accompanied by fresh pineapple and some maduros, fried mature plantains, which are sweeter than tostones. The picadillo ($15), one of their signature offerings, is ground pork intriguingly enhanced with cinnamon, as is the Cuban tradition, with tomatoes as well as olives, raisins, and slivers of almonds over white rice. A satisfying dish.