I picked up New York magazine to check out Adam Platt's "Where to Eat 2010", and I was reading about all the delicious food at various restaurants and I felt really inspired to try one out for a lunch I had yesterday with friends. There was a plethora of palate-tempting options like Marea, A Voce Columbus, Bill's Bar & Burger, Sorella, The Standard Grill…so what did I choose? Asia de Cuba. Ok, that is a) not on the list (and hasn't been for a while), and b) I didn't pick it. That's right, I am blaming my friend. All her fault for not believing in Adam Platt. Truth be told, it was 17 degrees outside yesterday, and Asia de Cuba required the least amount of travel time outdoors and had a prix fixe lunch menu. Sue me. No offense to Adam – I plan on dining at many of the aforementioned restaurants in the near future.
Anyway, I haven't been to Asia de Cuba in about a year or so, and it is basically (or exactly) the same as I remembered it. Flowy white curtains, long white communal table, and oversized white banquettes that make you feel vertically challenged when seated. Whatever. I came for a mid-day drink and some funky fusion food, not to pan the uni-color decor.
The prix fixe lunch was actually a decent deal – $29 per person gets you 2 apps, 2 entrees and 2 desserts, "portioned accordingly". For a 3-person lunch, that's a significant amount of food; especially if it's "portioned accordingly" to fit my appetite. No complaints on my end so far. We decided on the Lemongrass Skewered Chicken and Calamari Salad Asia de Cuba (my fave here) for appetizers, and then the Crispy Marinated Tofu and BBQ Chicken for entrees. The calamari salad sounds a bit off kilter when you read it on the menu, but it's actually really tasty, and to this day, I still don't really know why. It's lightly battered and fried calamari with chayote, radicchio, hearts of palm, bananas (yes, bananas), cashews, chicory, and sesame orange dressing. Not many people can imagine eating bananas with calamari, but somehow it works in this refreshing appetizer. I think that all the flavors are somewhat understated, so one doesn't overpower the other, surprisingly. It's a very creative, well-executed dish, and it's mountainous size is perfect for sharing. The "skewered" chicken was not exactly what I was picturing, but that could be because they messed up the order and we got the Beef Dumplings Two Ways (fried and steamed). No, we didn't send it back – we kept it because it looked so pretty and anything fried is a-ok in my book. I certainly liked the fried version with plum sauce better, but again, who wouldn't??
Off topic – but chopsticks are a dangerous utensil. Whenever I use them, I take relatively small bites, so I feel like I'm not eating that much, therefore I keep picking and picking at the food that's left on the table. The salad was such a large portion, all of us had a good amount of it (not to mention dumplings), yet I couldn't stop picking. One sliver of calamari here, a banana there, two cashews and a few pieces of hearts of palm there – pick pick pick. After that, by the time the entrees came we were all semi-full, but as always, we managed to make some room. The tofu was…tofu. I don't know, I have eaten my share of tofu in the past, and I find it sponge-like both in texture and in purpose; it just soaks up whatever flavor it's cooked with. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and this particular tofu was fine, but I wouldn't go running back to Asia de Cuba for their tofu, let's just say that. I much preferred the bbq chicken; it was juicy, had a nice smoky-sweet sauce with avocado mango salsa and it's served atop coconut sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Nums.
Either I have been coincidentally dining at places that LOVE to use coconut, or coconut is the new pork belly. We had two desserts, coconut cake and a trio of sorbets where one of the flavors was, you guessed it, coconut. I thought the coconut cake was really good; it was a mildly sweet yellow cake with shredded coconut and chocolate drizzled on top. It was an orgy of textures but I think that's what made it so good. The sorbet was good - nothing to write home about. I much prefer a chocolate confection over flavored ice any day. But that's just me and my inner fatty talking.
Asia de Cuba may not be the trendiest place to be anymore, but it was a overall a good lunch spot. And despite the red wine-stained spoon in our white sangria, the one thing I will certainly give them is points for presentation. Everything looked so artfully presented; which I guess is one good way to get people to eat bananas with calamari or soy- lime tofu.