When you have small children, dinner alone at a nice restaurant with your spouse is a luxury. Usually, our wedding anniversary is the one day a year we can count on to be able to do this. So, like haggard revolutionaries descending from the jungle, my wife and I entered one of Philadelphia’s finest Cuban restaurants, Cuba Libre, to mark our 10th anniversary.
She ordered a glass of white wine, while I embraced the setting and ordered a Mojito. The Mojito was very nice, but something is lost when drinking a tropical drink in a non-tropical setting.
For appetizers, my wife wanted the triple dip platter, with Haitian eggplant, black bean hummus, and smoked marlin dip/spreads. I was pleased with her choice and ready to eat when suddenly I was paralyzed by the icy grip of fear. Along with plantain chips, the dips were also served with cassava chips. As you may or may not know, Time Magazine had declared cassava one of the ten most dangerous foods in the world. My palms grew sweaty, chills ran up my spine, and the thought of leaving this mortal coil became a real proposition. How could I enjoy my appetizer when one its components was going to try to kill me?
Fortunately, I remembered my previous, Pulitzer Prize winning post about Time’s ridiculous list. Cassava was only dangerous if served raw. After sneaking into the kitchen to inspect the cooking method, and then convincing the chef and the manager on duty that I wasn’t insane, I settled in to enjoy my non-raw cassava chips.
And they were fantastic. Perhaps it was the proximity with danger, but I felt alive while indulging in the appetizer. My senses were even more aroused by the fact that the dips were amazing, especially the Haitian Eggplant, which was spicy and delicious. The smoked marlin was what you would expect, it tasted like smoked fish, and the black bean hummus was also outstanding. But the real revelation was the Haitian eggplant and the plantain chips. All in all, a terrific appetizer.
For dinner I had a sampler of empanadas, which seemed appropriately Cuban. One included chicken, corn, and jack cheese, which I could only describe as sinfully delicious. My wife selected a watercress salad and black bean soup, both of which were top-notch, and I also ordered black beans w/rice, onion, and bacon on the side. Cubans must love black beans, and who can blame them? They are outstanding, and at Cuba Libre they were clay in the chef’s hands.
If you are in Philly, Cuba Libre is a fantastic choice. Highly recommend.
Not ready to call it a night, we asked our waitress for a recommendation for dessert and a nightcap. Her choice: Dolce, a trendy Italian restaurant a couple blocks away. My wife and I agreed and found our way there ten minutes later.
Upon entering, my wife and I snickered a bit. Trendy? Perhaps, but at Dolce they were trying too hard. The whole thing smacked of too much effort. The floor lit up, the waitresses were dour, pouty, and aloof, and at 11pm on a Friday night the place was practically empty. They might want to consider kicking it down a notch.
We did order dessert, vanilla cheesecake for me and apple pie with ice cream and caramel sauce for my wife. My cheesecake was fine — nothing special — but the apple pie was AMAZING. Imagine our surprise, that at this trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy restaurant we would find the most delicious apple pie. How the hell does that make sense?
After finishing dessert, we ordered another round of drinks, Bailey’s and coffee for my wife and a Dogfish IPA for me.
If you are looking for a pleasant environment and quality, friendly service, Dolce is not for you. The waitress was too pouty and dour, and the light up floor was giving me a headache. But they made one hell of a great apple pie.
In the final installment: My road trip back and lunch in State College at the Nittany Lion Inn.