Friday, March 11, 2016

Our Cuban Food Adventure...

Last weekend, I was able to extend a work trip into a few days of fun in Miami with my friend Katherine. A big highlight of the trip was experiencing Cuban cuisine on Calle Ocho at the iconic Versailles restaurant. Upon arrival, we knew it was going to be good because there was a line wrapping around the entire side of the building and most of the people looked to be local.

During our wait, I decided to do a quick google search to learn a little more about Cuban food, its origin, and the best dishes to order. I learned that Cuban cuisine is actually a blend of Native American, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influence in spice and flavor.

A typical meal consists of rice and beans, cooked either together or apart. If the rice is cooked together with the beans it is called either Congri or Moros. Another common side dish is Platanos Maduros which are just plantains pan fried in oil until golden brown – aye caramba they were good!

Meat is usually paired with the rice and beans and served in a light sauce. The most popular sauce is called Mojo which is made from oil, garlic, onion, oregano, and bitter orange or lime juice. Another prevalent meat dish is called Ropa Vieja which is a beef dish simmered in a tomato-based sauce until the meat falls apart. If you know Spanish you know that Ropa Vieja actually translates as “old clothes”. Pretty clever, huh?

After the long awaited entry, we sat down at our table, opened our menus, and upon viewing the prices our jaws dropped to the floor. Everything was so cheap! Well either that or we were getting used to the South Beach price tag. It didn’t take us long to decide we were going to order a few different dishes and share so we could try as much as possible.

The first dish we shared was an appetizer platter which included an assortment of croquettes and empanadas. We had ham, chicken, and yuca croquettes served with a cilantro sauce. My favorite was the yuca which is a common starchy root vegetable in Cuba that is a deep purple color. We also tried stuffed green plantains with shrimp creole, pineapple, and cilantro. We could have left after the appetizers and would have been completely satisfied. They were delicious!

But it wouldn’t be a successful first Cuban food experience without getting a little bit of the meat sweats! For my main dish I went with the trusty Cuban mojo beef. Katherine went with a sampler platter which included Picadillo, roasted pork, and a Cuban tamale. Picadillo is another traditional Latin dish that is made of ground beef, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, onions stewed together with cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaves. I’ve actually made Picadillo before but Versailles Picadillo put my attempt to shame!

And if all that wasn’t enough food we decided it would be frowned upon if we didn’t try traditional Cuban flan and cafĂ© Cubano. We also couldn’t resist stopping at the Versailles bakery next door to pick up some sweet treats for later. Overall, Versailles treated us very well. It goes without saying that Versaille is a must if you find yourself in beautiful Miami. I already know what I am going to order on my next visit!

Another area we loved was the neighborhood called the WynWood Art District.  It is located in a struggling neighborhood in an attempt to revitalize the area. If you visit, you will find yourself surrounded by a lively bar and restaurant scene that showcases some pretty talented graffiti artists. In the very center of the district you can visit the WynWood Walls for a pretty spectacular outdoor venue of art. The bars also had a pretty great selection of local craft beers. It is a great area to check-out for a few drinks!