Cuban Revolution

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 14, 2007
dramatically lit bar with plenty of bright brushed aluminum and a frosted-texture coppery facing. Black-clad servers bustle about purposefully.
Choose your dining mood: cloth-topped table on the floor or informal café table along a bench the length of one wall. Potted palms and two slowly revolving palm-plait fans add a tropical touch. Complimentary corn chips and black bean dip make you feel like a guest. The sangria ($4.50 per glass, $16.50 per liter) has agreeable balance of fruit and kick; and the fresh mint leaves in the mojitos ($8.50) are muddled with a wooden pestle, just like they should be.
Although the food is still mainly rice and bean platters, and sandwiches, the menu has been expanded to include numerous traditional side dishes. We tried some of the additions in a Cuban Sampler ($11.95) appetizer. The medley consisted of a cup of nicely proportioned black bean and corn relish, and three each of four items: tostones, which are crisp, twice-fried disks of plantain; maduros, which are sautéed sweet plantains; minced ham croquettes; and papas rellenas, which are potato croquettes with a spiced beef center. The last two items are deep-fried, but not at all greasy, good for dipping in mojo, a preparation of lime and lemon juices. (The house hot sauce is also first-rate — intensely flavorful, yet not about to melt your fillings.)
I had enough of an appetite for a platter. The nicely seasoned ropa vieja ($10.75), stewed and slightly spiced shredded beef, had been appreciated on a prior visit. But now there is a new favorite: the pork platter ($11.50), with slices of the tasty marinated meat atop rice and beans. It comes with a side of Cuban toast (baguette-shaped white bread), and a cup of chopped lettuce, tomato, and onion, which the waiter forgot and I detected only later on the menu. The picadillo platter ($10.75) sounded promising for the next time: ground beef sautéed with garlic, onions, diced potatoes, and raisins.
Since the restaurant not only lays claim to “The World’s Best Sandwich” but has actually trademarked the phrase, such items are obviously a feature. Of course, starting the list is the Cuban sandwich ($6.58), containing roast pork, ham, salami, and pickles, somewhat flattened in a sandwich press, as tradition dictates. The contents aren’t heaped on deli style, so for those with more of an appetite there is “El Gordo” ($8.50), with double meats, although no salami, pickles, or complementary plantain chips. The latter was tasty and filling enough on a lunch visit for me to take half of it home.
Vegetarians can have a hard time at a place that doubles up the meat, but Johnnie did fine with a veggie Santiago wrap ($5.95), which forgoes the chicken on a regular Santiago ($6.75) while retaining the vegetables, rice, and cheddar. For another 80 cents, there is all that, plus fried sweet plantains in a Maduros wrap.
As for desserts, most hovering around $5, they are much improved from the previous place. That’s especially so for the flan ($4.25), that macho answer to crème brûlée, which now is a delicious wedge of custard. There are also a couple of chocolate offerings and our waiter’s favorite, vanilla tres leches cake.
Okay, maybe with all the current distractions the revolution won’t be televised. So why don't we commiserate about it here over a nice chilled glass of Cuban beer Hatuey or La Tropical (both $4.50)? 

Cuban Revolution | 50 Aborn St, Providence | Mon-Sat, 11 am-midnight | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.331.8829

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