Having visited Cuba this past January, husband Peter and I decided to check out the local take on this often-misunderstood island cuisine. Was Cuban cooking in Cuba different from the version we get in the US? Is the “classic” Cuban sandwich really Cuban?
We launched our stateside culinary exploration at the Colada Shop in Logan Circle, 1405 T St. NW. There’s a lot more to Colada than meets the eye. A recent lunch was well worth the hassle, mainly parking in the busy neighborhood, even on a Sunday. At first, Colada looks like a small, cramped carryout, but the small space opens up into a spacious first-floor dining area, plus a brightly decorated upstairs bar and rooftop garden. On a blustery spring day, it was far too cold to enjoy the otherwise pleasant outdoor seating. So, after placing our orders at the busy counter, we settled inside at a comfy couch and awaited our food, which arrived in a sturdy paper shopping bag.
The Colada Shop menu seemed more authentic than we’d anticipated. I went for the empanadas – delicate pastry filled with picadillo (spicy ground beef) and spinach and cheese. Ham croquetas were delicious: crisp on the outside, moist and flavorful inside. Pastelitos, pastries with cream cheese and guava, were enveloped in a flakey crust. Peter’s Cuban sandwich, while not really Cuban, was the best rendition we’ve tasted north of Tampa.
We’ve learned that Cuban sandwiches were reportedly invented to feed Cuban cigar workers in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood and in Key West. In almost two weeks traveling around Cuba, we never encountered anything resembling the familiar combo of ham, pork, Swiss cheese and pickles.
Lunch for two, with a glass of Tempranillo vino tinto, came to $35. Colada Shop, which has a sibling in Sterling, is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Call 202-332-8800 or visit www.coladashop.com.
Local interest in Cuban cooking and restaurants seems to be growing, maybe since many Americans have traveled there recently. Due to open soon – if not already – is Little Havana at 3704 14th St. NW, in Petworth. The 70-seat Caribbean newcomer is the creation of Alfredo Solis, who brought us neighborhood taquerias El Sol and Mezcalero. Helming the central kitchen, lined with gleaming white subway tiles, is Joseph Osorio, whose Cuban godmother taught him to cook.
As for the menu, Osorio hopes to transport diners to Miami’s Little Havana, where Cuban restaurants abound. “Half of the menu is going to be really traditional, and the other half is our twist on Cuban cuisine,” Solis told Eater DC, adding that other Caribbean cuisines will appear as well. After all, Cuba is the gateway to the Caribbean. Diners can expect empanadas, oxtail and Jamaican jerk chicken. Myriad kinds of rum will flow. For updates visit www.littlehavanadc.com.
Now that summer is finally here, outdoor seating is proliferating throughout the land. In Bloomingdale, Truxton Inn has opened its 40-seat patio. Located at 251 Florida Ave. NW, the popular neighborhood spot is open daily. Call 202-733-4952 or visit www.truxtonindc.com.
Nearby in Shaw, Morris American Bar – which debuted last winter – has unveiled its 60-seat, street-facing patio. The dog-friendly al fresco section is dubbed Fix Bar, meaning “to fix” drinks. Warm weather favorites include boozy snow cones, served over crushed ice, reportedly popular in the 19th century. Other seasonal potables include locally produced beers and canned rose wine from House Wine, made in Washington’s Columbia Valley. Located at 1020 Seventh St. NW, Morris/Fix is open nightly except for Monday. Call 202-962-0400 or visit www.morrisbardc.com.
Yap About It: Cafe Saint-Ex Turns 15
What a difference a decade and a half makes! In 2003, 14th Street corridor buildings were largely boarded up; the neighborhood was hardly a dining destination. But Cafe Saint-Ex took the plunge 15 years ago, and the restaurant has remained a cornerstone. Last month’s Birthday BBQ Blowout kicked off a series of monthly patio sessions. Coming up: Father’s Day BBQ with DC Brau (June 17); Altos Tequila (July 22); National Dog Day (August 26) with Dogfish Head brew. Four-legged friends are welcome.
Also: on Monday Night Yappy Hours, guests may bring their dogs, who are always welcome on the patio. Located at 1814 14th St. NW, Cafe Saint-Ex is open daily; call 202-265-7839 or visit www.saint-ex.com.
Yak about Cats
In Woodridge (Washington’s northeastern edge), Asian grill Momo Yakitori (2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE) now dispenses cups of noodles along with cocktails in the lower-level bar. Plus lots of cats. More about them later.
Partners Masako Morishita and Andrew Chiou, who also operate a catering company called M’s Kitchen, grew up eating yakitori (Japanese for grilled chicken). Therefore, the menu showcases victuals grilled over binchotan charcoal including snacks, vegetables, chicken and beef skewers.
Momo’s buildout was fairly simple, we’re told, thanks to the space’s former life as Mediterranean restaurant Nido (which closed last year). Momo’s modern design features soaring ceilings, white brick walls, colorful tiles and blond woods.
Momo, which means “thigh” in Japanese, is also the name of the owners’ fluffy gray cat. The couple integrates their shared love of felines (they’ve got three) in other ways as well. At the bottom of a soup bowl (filled with a seared rice ball in savory chicken broth) lurks a feline image. Quirky coffee cups provided for discarded skewers depict sunglass-wearing cats.
The restaurant is open nightly, except for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when it is closed. For more information visit www.momoyakitori.com.
Jonathan’s Still Here!
If you haven’t seen cookbook author/chef/storyteller Jonathan Bardzik recently, no worries. The personable Bardzik has been busy. He’s been promoting his three cookbooks: “Fresh and Magical Vinaigrettes,” “Seasons to Taste” and “Simple Summer.” Hill’s Kitchen, 713 D St. SE, should be carrying his books, and they are also available on Amazon.com.
In addition to corporate keynote speaking, team-building events and in-home teaching dinners, Bardzik is cooking at 10 different markets in the Washington area, including Bloomingdale farmers market at First and R streets NW, where you can meet him on Sunday, July 22, from 10 a.m. to noon.
You can also find Bardzik’s recipes at Canales Quality Meats (inside Eastern Market) and can follow him on Instagram and Facebook. For more information and to order books call 202-596-1927 or visit www.JonathanBardzik.com/thebooks.
Along the 14th Street corridor, the dressy cocktail bar Quarter+Glory has departed after two and a half years at 2017 14th St. NW.