Sunday, January 5, 2014

LA CUBANA - Roncesvalles Retro Cuban Diner - Toronto

LA CUBANA- Roncesvalles Retro Cuban Diner

La Cubana

Owned by Cuban-French chef Corinna Mozo, born in Montreal, she moved to Toronto in 2006, after apprenticing under famed chef Lydia Shire at Biba in Boston. Shire is credited with laying the foundation for Boston’s restaurant scene. On her brother’s advice Mozo and her husband, Victor Coelho, purchased Sparrow and opened Delux, the hipster bistro on Ossington.  Delux pays tribute to her classic French training accented with Cuban finesse.

Our server tells us, Mozo and Coelho wanted to open a laid-back, family-friendly diner that paid tribute to her grandfather’s lunch counter and combined the finesse of 1950’s Havana. Her father, Emilio, immigrated to Canada at age 18, before pre-Castro Cuba became a social state. Mozo and her brother remodeled the former Blue Plate on Roncesvalles and transformed it into this stylish 40-seat diner. It’s classic retro with a focused attention to detail.  It pays homage to Cuba’s golden era with subdued avocado walls, Cuban mosaic cement tiles, shelves loaded with Latin American pantry staples and a long counter with seating facing the busy open kitchen. The menus are printed with red ink on white paper placements.

The kitchen is run by Leah Marshall Hannon, Delux’s former chef de cuisine, and chef de cuisine Kyle Hough. The offering is partially a sampling of Delux signatures — doughy, well-executed conch frituras (six for $7) and molasses-roasted pork shoulder ($15) — and newer riffs like jumped-up guava barbecue short ribs ($15) and crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, cod croquetas ($6).

Conscientiously prepared, Bocaditos (appetizers) arrive in princely portions: Crispy tostones rellenos (fried plantains pounded flat and then fried again to create a crispy chip) have sofrito- scented (the Cuban flavour base of onions, pepper, and garlic) picadillo (hash-like minced beef) heaped on top (three for $7). Succulent large grilled coconut shrimp (four for $7) are a hit. Savoury empanadas (three for $7) are plump little half-moon crescents filled with house-made chorizo flavoured with golden raisins and green olives.

A medianoche is similar to a Cuban sandwich except that Cuban bread is typically replaced by an egg loaf and ham is sometimes excluded. Enthusiasts will tell you for a Cubano, you need an eight-inch brioche with a rich and tender crumb; for a medianoche, the bread is enriched with eggs and lard and sweeter, like unbraided challah. By the way, medianoche means "midnight" from its status as a late night snack in the nightclubs of Havana.
We anticipated having the classic Cuban sandwich. The Cubano (($9) is a mainstay from Delux’s menu, and what emerges from this kitchen is a slightly gooey and magnificent combo of gruyere cheese, smoked ham, slow-roasted molasses rubbed pork, grainy mustard and chipotle mayo on pressed freshly baked bread. We love the pickles.

On offer, there’s also perfectly grilled Georgian Bay whitefish with fresh pineapple, red onion, citrusy red cabbage and chipotle aioli. As well, tender, Coca-Cola marinated short-rib that tumbling out of a soft, medianoche slathered in guava-barbeque sauce and topped with garlicky, vinegar-spiked chimichurri. The achiote chicken sandwich with avocado and tomato on freshly baked bread is served cold.

Prices are accessible and cap out at $15 for plates of rice and beans, red-cabbage slaw, fried plantains (tostones), and embellishments—like chicken burnished with achiote, an earthy flavoured paste with smoky flavour and a hint of peppery bitterness.

There’s a caramelized pineapple upside-down confection on the $5 dessert menu, a rich custardy Cuban-coffee crème brûlée, and sweet and sour key-lime pie in a mason jar with a ground-up granola crust and icing sugar.

Service is knowledgeable, friendly but not particularly attentive. My only beef is that my Americano arrived lukewarm and the server replaced it but charged me for both.
392 Roncesvalles Ave.(at Howard Park Ave.)
416 538 7500


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