Havana Cafe

The Havana has been around for years, and it's a mainstay of Vancouver. What's neat about the restaurant is that it houses both a gallery and theatre, which often feature local artists. The decor is pretty cool too, with that vintage, rusty and hip feel, with its picture frames hung askew and walls artfully covered in scratch graffiti ('scraffiti'?). One thing you will notice if you've ever visited or walked past the place is that the restaurant is always busy, and there almost always is a lineup. There is another thing the restaurant is known for, but I'll get to that later.

We came here for dinner before a show at the Cultch (formerly the Van East Cultural Centre), so we had some hours to kill. Surprisingly we were seated right away, even though the restaurant seemed pretty full.

For appetizer, we shared the Beef Taquitos ($10), which is braised beef, pickled cabbage, salsa, greens and sour cream atop small soft tortillas. We didn't expect much, but we were blown away. The meat was tender and flavourful and savoury, and was the best thing about the dish. The pickled cabbage was tasty and gave a nice contrast in both flavour and texture, but we found that there was too much of it. The salsa and sour cream seemed like an afterthought, and didn't add much to the whole experience on the plate.

For the main, Shane ordered the Media Noche ($14), which consisted of pulled pork, black forest ham, and swiss cheese. He chose the yam fries to accompany the sandwich. I took one bite of this, and all I could taste was the ham. Shane felt the same--he could barely taste the pulled pork. The yam fries, on the other hand, were stellar. At most places, when you order yam fries, it doesn't actually taste like yam, you know? But these babies tasted like yams--they were 'yammy'. Ahem.

I took a bit of a plunge by ordering the 'Spanish Paella' ($19), because Havana's food is not really Spanish or even totally Latin (look, if you have hamburgers, Jerk chicken and pasta on your menu, you're not exactly authentic, ok?). But paella is one of my favorite dishes, and it's a dish I never make at home because it requires a lot of time, ingredients, and special equipment. So I was tempted.

So how was it? I had a few issues.

1. It's not served in a paella pan. One of the best things about paella is the crispy rice crust at the bottom and edges of the pan.

2. The rice was soggy. Sadness. It was very wet, and there was a lot of liquid.

3. No saffron. As well as flavour, saffron imparts an angelic golden colour to paella.

4. It had coconut milk. I can understand being experimental with this, but this added nothing except for a distasteful flavour which was similar to the coating left on your tongue after you've drunk a glass of milk.

I was disappointed. Why put something like paella on the menu if you can't do it well?

Now, back to a really good thing about the restaurant, something that it's known for: the drinks. This is the darling mojito. I don't like alcohol, but I was surprised that I liked this drink. A lot. It was minty and lemony and fizzy. So good.

In fact, most of the tables around us had jugs of the stuff. That and jugfuls of sangria.

So our experience at Havana was mixed--really good appetizer and drinks, but a couple of entrees that were on the not-very-good side. Will we return? Yup. For the drinks and appies.

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1 comment:

  1. Yah, I find that the entrees to be both expensive and disappointing. But indeed it's a popular place to hang out with a beverage.