Havana good bite at Café Laurent - Havana, Cuba

Hemingway, son cubano, mojitos, & daiquiris. Cuba is the birthplace of passionate culture, Fidel’s revolution, and the ironically named Cuba Libre. This March, the Am“bro”sia crew was fortunate to explore the urban jungle of Havana as US government approved “journalists”.

Cuba is a spectacular place to visit. The people are friendly. The historic sites are fantastic. The art is free flowing. Most importantly, the drinks are well made. Due to the lingering effects of the embargo and the current political climate, Havana is a city stuck in the past. 1950’s Chevrolets fill the streets, and live Latin music infuse the bohemian late night establishments. I picture Ernest in front of a typewriter pecking away at “The Old Man and the Sea” [1].

View from the Airbnb balcony

Cuba is on the cusp of a transformation, and you should step in the DeLorean before a flood of American tourists ruin it. While we could fill pages with the history, culture, and economics, this post will be restricted to one of our most spectacular gastrometric discoveries: Café Laurent.

We start out in Old Havana at one of the Old Square’s many balcony bars. (Plaza Vieja en Habana Vieja) It’s late afternoon in the Azucar Lounge, and we’re escaping the Havana heat with some cold Ricky Rosé [2]. The slight grapefruit acidity to the dry coral nectar got my gastric juices flowing [3].

I’m ready to eat.

Old Square

The previous night, we visited Fábrica de Arte Cubano[4], an art gallery turn chic bar (picture the MoMA meets Death & Company). We had heard tale of a penthouse restaurant, and we set off to track it down.

Havana isn’t a big city, but you definitely can’t walk everywhere. It is easy to catch a yellow cab in the city center [5], but we wanted something a bit more authentic (or with a higher pH level [6]). Near the Basílica San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana, you can catch a lift in a classic American made convertible. We whisked along the Malecón [7], the main seaside road, to our destination.

Our hot pink convertible

Restaurante Paladar Café Laurent is in an unassuming white apartment building near the Hotel Nacional de Cuba [8]. Café Laurent is described as an art deco penthouse serving a fusion of “cosmopolitan cuisine and contemporary Cuban fare”. While you need a reservation, the place is very welcoming and affordable [9]. After walking up five flights of stairs, we stumbled into a beautiful restaurant with a breath taking view of the ocean. We were quickly seated, and we ordered a round of mojitos while settling into the menu [10].

Everything looked great!

We ended up ordering an appetizer. Tuna mixed with chives and onions served on a parmesan tostada topped with roe [11].  It was pretty good, but they did serve higher quality tuna ceviche to a nearby table. The slightly sweet and soft tuna paired well with the tostada’s crunch.

Our main entrees were:

·         Camarones grille (grilled shrimp) served with spiced rice

·         A garlic version of ropa vieja (slow cooked beef).

This was the best meal on our entire trip! The shrimp were succulent and vibrant. They had just the right amount of fresh lime juice and flavorful olive oil sauce. The stewed beef was juicy, tender, and delicious. Unlike normal shredded ropa vieja, the beef was medium rare sirloin chunks. The chunks were smothered in a garlic reduction, and each piece just melted in your mouth.

We highly recommend visiting Café Laurent for its ambience, pleasant service, and fantastic food! We walked away with a steal since the total bill was less than $60 CUCs [12]. Café Laurent and Havana represent the future Cuba, a fusion of urban and classic Cuban culture meeting the global scene. It was a remarkable to see and taste the budding Habana metamorphosis.

*If you’re interested in planning a trip to Cuba, check out the detailed Havana itinerary in the “Itineraries” section.

 

Comments:

  • [1] Hemingway actually wrote it in the Bahamas in 1951.
  • [2] Ricky Rosé is simply Rosé wine. Unlike pretentious wine snobs, rapper Rick Ross and wine experts (shout out Cheryl Stanley) support well-made Rosé. Cuba imports most of its wine from South America. Due to government controls, wine tends to be on the pricier side. Stick to a classic Cuban cocktail like a mojito. After all, did you really visit Cuba if you don’t come home with a bottle of Havana Club rum?
  • [3] Besides salivation, alcohol big impacts on the central nervous system (CNS). It binds to GABA as a positive allosteric modulatory (in English it increases the effect of an inhibitory neurotransmitter). It can also muddle around with memory by allosterically inhibiting NMDA and AMPA (critical for long-term potentiation aka learning). Alcohol effects all areas of your brain. It alters your prefrontal cortex or your decision making. It also helps release endorphins or things that will bind to your opioid receptors to make you feel good. It has other effects on your “primitive” brain at your hypothalamus where it increases your hunger and sex drives and at your cerebellum where it effects your motor control. 
  • [4] Literally translates as Cuban Art Factory. It’s a cool cultural center for contemporary art near the Colon Cemetery. We even say a fashion show the night we visited!
  • [5] The government regulates prices for cabs to and from the airport to $25USD. There are two kinds of cabs in Havana, the more expensive yellow cab for tourists and the local friendly taxi. These taxis function as communal rides, and folks will hop in and out almost like a bus.
  • [6] Basic.
  • [7] It runs along the north side of Havana next to a seawall, and it is also called the Avenida de Maceo.
  • [8] Classic Cuban looks and solid cocktails.
  • [9] These nicer places are packed, so you definitely need a reservation. Try email or using a Cuban hotel’s concierge. We stayed in an Airbnb, but you can also pretend like you have a room.
  • [10] And made friends with our neighbors. The dude lost his passport on his first night in Havana….
  • [11] I forgot the Spanish name.
  • [12] 1 to 1 with USD but reasonable considering other restaurants.