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Top 10 New Private Restaurants (Paladares) in Havana

By Sophia Beckman / Posted November 24, 2012

1 Le Chansonier

Calle J No. 257, entre Liena y 15, Vedado,
Cuba 10400, +53 78321576
le.chansonnier.restaurant@gmail.com

Hector Higueras re-opened Le Chansonier in October 2011. For those that remember, Le Chansonier used to be a French- themed private restaurant cluttered with antiques; it was a solid- if not spectacular- place to eat. This re-invention has left little trace of the old interior of the house, which dates back to 1860. Now a haven of contemporary chic, this is not an escape from Havana, as much as the integration of the coolest elements. Beautiful young staff, happening music, sensitive lighting and thoughtful décor, as well as what must be the coolest toilet façade in Cuba (thanks Damian Alquiles) give the place impeccable hipster credentials.A small bar, to the left as you enter, is all dim lighting and hums with activity. The main dining room is spacious with high ceilings and impeccable taste. Two front rooms give dedicated smokers a chance to puff away, since the main dining room and bar are non-smoking.Food-wise it has taken the team a couple of months to get up and running from the slightly- shaky November opening. This is quality nouveau cuisine, without the silly small portions, which is put together by the experienced chef (Enrique). The menu is not huge, but what is there is done with sensitive use of herbs and spices. For starters try the Pulpo en tinta de calamar (Octopus in squid ink), Caviar de berenjena (Eggplant caviar) or Sopa de cangrejo (Crab soup). Main courses we like include the Pato a Le Chansonnier (Duck Le Chansonnier), Pechuga de pollo con salsa de tamarindo, (Chicken breast with tamarind sauce) and Pescado a la Provenzal(Fish Provençal). Desserts are reasonable, the coffee good and our only grumble would be a limited wine menu at present, which is definitely over-priced.

2 Café Laurent

Calle M No. 257, entre 19 y 21
831 2090 / 832 6890

The entrance to Café Laurent gives little away. While just around the corner from the iconic Hotel National, Calle M has little commerce and you have to be guided into the apartment building where a small well-maintained antique elevator takes you up four stories to the penthouse. This is not a cute family-run paladar, but a very stylish and professional restaurant, foremost in the new wave of private Havana eating establishments that have sprung up in the past few months.Walking into this paladar, you may need to pinch yourself, for the clean, minimalist lines are so alien to the average Havana experience. It is modelled on a contemporary 1950s feel. Old newspapers cover the back wall with adverts for the latest vacuum cleaners and international calling options from the 1950s. The walls have been painted with stylish rings into which the fridge simply blends. Sensitive modern lighting and billowing white awnings outside provide shade from the noonday sun and add a modern Miami style.Dayron Aviles Alfonso is the Cuban chef who, having worked in San Sebastian, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina, is comfortable with the Spanish Basque-based menu. The quality of the food here, imitation or not, is sufficient for us to forget the original sin. The “pargo con almejas y gambas en salsa verde” (red snapper with clams and shrimp in green sauce) is fabulous. The shrimps, steak, meatballs, salads and sides are all well done, while the biscotti de chocolateis irresistible. The Sunday lunch special is a tasty paella and/or risotto.

3 San Cristobal

San Rafael No 469, entre Lealtad y Campanario
860 1705

San Cristóbal is named after its owner, chef and driving inspiration, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés. The place belies its location in Central Havana and exudes authenticity and charm. Cluttered, eclectic, this is a still lived-in space occupying the downstairs floor of an early 20th-century mansion.Piles of old books are stacked atop beautiful old furniture; unique black and white photos jostle for space with antique record covers and bull fighting posters, while a selection of clocks, religious artefacts and, even a full size zebra pelt, add to the mix. China elephants share the front room with a model Red Indian and a shrine to the black Virgin Mary (famously depicted in the Our Lady of Regla Church).The food is purely Cuban-creole. Malanga, yucca, cerdo asado(pork), lobster, fresh fish, shrimp and other traditional fare. This is not, however, the bland standard fare to be found in many state restaurants. A medium rare stake is a medium rare steak, not bloody as hell or burnt to a crisp. Perhaps the place is over-dependent on Carlos but at least while he is there, the food is reliably good. The desserts are expansive and perhaps here the imagination runs a little wilder with the Pudding San Cristóbal (eggs, fruit, milk and almonds)—excellent, the fruit tart and rice puddings–pretty passable, as well as the standard and omnipresent flan. The wine list is broad enough and reasonably priced.

4 Atelier

Calle 5, entre Paseo y 2
836 2025 / 836 7075 atelierde5ta@yahoo.es

Calling Atelier contemporary is like calling Havana a little run down: true, but enough of an understatement as to miss the point. The large main room is decorated with sparse modern lines, inside a typically idiosyncratic Vedadomansion. Two balconies have boundless cushions for the outdoor lounge. An antique hob outside, old sewing and adding machines inside make the place retro yet not old.Atelier is run by Niuris Higueras who has a passion for creating food, which has been nurtured over many years. She is the driving force-modest, capable, and warm. She defines the style of the food as signature cuisine, an experimental culinary workshop. The food changes every day, every week, hence those handwritten menus. While Niuris is the real inspiration, Enrique is the experienced chef in the kitchen and they create dishes together. Eclectic, everything from Falafels, Pato Confitado [candied duck], Lomito de Res con Camarones y Espuma de Apio al Olivo [sirloin steak with shrimp and celery mousse], Conejo al Vino [rabbit in wine] to cerdo asado(roast pork). Desserts are standard (flan, tarts, ice cream) but good.The food is consistently excellent, if a little unpredictable. The same can be said for the service. Niurisand her brothers simply get it, they understand what a demanding clientele want and they strive to deliver it with a passionate commitment. Many years catering large parties have given sensitivity and empathy. This location is ideally suited for large groups who want something different, something smart, and something authentic.

5 Dona Eutimia

Callejón del Chorro,
No. 60c, Plaza de la Catedral
5 281 5883 / 5 270 6433

It would take a hard heart indeed to be immune to the charms of Leticia, the owner of Doña Eutimia. Small, old, personal, she wants an intimate place where you come to relax. So much so, that she states she wants you to linger, even if she has a long line outside. This paladar is located opposite an artist’s workshop within a few meters of the large state restaurant, El Patio, on Cathedral Square. The contrast could not be greater. The bar area has a modern coffee shop lounge feel (think Friends) with comfortable sofas, bright cushions and good music (modern lounge). There are many small pieces from Old Havana dotted around the place including in the main dining room, which has soft lighting and lots of nice touches. While there is seating outside and in another side room, we like these less.While Leticia never knew how to cook, she has developed a very traditional Cuban menu based on memories of her mother’s dishes. She does not like to invent new dishes or to mix with a modern touch. So look for tamal, ropa vieja(old clothes), pork, rice and beans cooked with original flavours. Don’t underestimate how good these dishes can be done, right. I am not really a fan of Cuban traditional cuisine but loved everything we ate here, not to mention an excellent fillet mignon as well as garlic octopus.We have only one real complaint, with regret, since we love the place–it has to be pointed out that if the place is full you will not get much of anything in a hurry so take your newspaper and a healthy dose of patience.

6 La Carboncita

3a No 3804 entre 38 y 40, Miramar, Playa.
53 7 203 0261 / 53 5 290 4984
Open from 9 am to midnight.

This is Walter, the Italian pizza guy’s new place in Havana, except that actually this Paladaris owned by Eneida, a pleasant, businesslike woman, who has lived for some time, in the accompanying 1950s modernist house, which is located in the middle of this new restaurant, occupying the side and back terraces (as well as an inside room).There is a menu, which features a selection of pizzas and pastas, as well as some meat dishes, but most of the regulars simply have whatever Walter suggests. As with much good Italian food his recommendation will invariably be uncomplicated. This should not be mistaken for simple, as this is quite simply the best place for pizza and pasta in Havana. I am not really sure what the secret ingredient is, but I am sure that it includes a large dash of Walter’s inimitable charm, mixed with the freshest ingredients and a newly installed stone pizza oven.The place itself is unspectacular in décor and ambience. Pleasant, comfortable, unpretentious with lightning quick service, this is simply a good place to eat within a two hundred year old former Monastery. Having said that, as the saying goes, people who know, go and go backfor one hit is never enough.

7 La Galeria

Review Removed Summer 2013

8 El Caruaje

Review removed Summer 2013

9 Castas y Tal

Calle E No 158 B,entre 9a y Calzada
833 1425
thanrey@hotmail.com

Castas y Tal is located on the 11th floor of a large apartment building in Vedado, just around the corner from Hotel Presidente. The restaurant really has three discreet areas, a main dining room that can sit eight, an indoor terrace with glass windows and a side area where you can have an excellent Caipirinha prepared with eau–de–vie, and Caipiroska, with vodka. This is not a slick mega-paladarbut a home lounge. A large -slightly kitsch- mural (think sunflowers) dominates the main room, which is well suited for a large group to take the place over for the evening.Jonathan Reyes and chef Ransys Valdés jointly manage the place. Jonathanis a good example of the new young Cuban entrepreneur. Ransys knows and loves her food. A German grandmother, black-Chinese uncle and various Spanish relatives set her firmly in the Cuban melting pot and she seems to have taken a little bit of everything into her calm style.The food is light, fresh and healthy, in tune with the seasons, the climate, the Caribbean. This is Ransys’s style, light on salt, short on fat, less ingredients, not more. The effect is croquettes, tapas, Spanish omelettes and so on, that are not only delicious, but which do not sit like a lead balloon at the bottom of your stomach for the rest of the evening. Everything possible is made in-house. Several dishes (*anything ending in “casto” or “tal”) are special recipes of Ransys. The Cordero casto is deboned lamb cooked with masala; Pollo y tal, deboned chicken, no grease, vegetables, cooked in pineapple juice and ginger; shrimps in rosemary sauce; roast beef in mushroom sauce are all cooked with imagination and love. The desserts are extensive: cheesecake, chocolate temptation, lemon pie, custard, fruit reward and you have to try the Piso 11 dessert–French bread with eggs, red wine, vanilla ice-cream, hot chocolate and ginger. There is no set wine list, although the standard Spanish/Chilean wines should be available.

10 La Compana

Calle 212, No 2904, Entre 29 and 31 La Lisa[PLAYA]
Open 10 am to midnight

Chill out bar and grill, La Compana seems at first glance more an upmarket homestead finca (farm) than anything else. This is an upmarket ranchonbesides a nice pool. The tables are comfortable and well furnished; a breeze takes away the hot and heavy summer night air. Depending on the night you may also be able to combine dinner with a concert. Kelvis Ochoa, December Bueno, David Torrens and D Jazz have all played poolside recently. On these nights, starting around 11pm, the place the place gets packed to the rafters with a trendy young crowd. Sunday lunch is more family time.The menu (which has received mixed reviews) is extensive and includes tapas (cerviche, carpaccio, papas bravas, gazpacho etc.), sushi, pizzas and pastas (Gnocchi is a speciality), Chateaubriand, freshly caught fish and a range of paellas. Everything except traditional Cuban Creole fare. The intention is to create good quality dishes made as much as possible on the premises without excessive elaboration. ‘Hecho in case’(home-made) using fresh local ingredients.

Sophia Beckman

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