The concept of ‘paladare’ in Cuba is essentially creating a privately run dining room in the home of a Cuban. While this basic premise has been turned into some slick restos that comfortably push the concept to create a full-blown restaurant experience, the poster operation for the paladare for nearly 20 years is La Casa Restaurante where a remarkable four generations of Havana’s Robaina family are on hand to greet you.
Opened as one of the first private restaurants in the country, La Casa has been serving since August 3rd, 1995. Today’s charming hosts Karina and Alejandro were just kids at the time – they had grown up in the house and initially the guests sat down to the family’s triangular table in the dining room. Their Nuevo Vedado home took the premise quite literally – inviting guests into the home in which the family lived for meals. Over the intervening 18 years the business has expanded into the family’s living room, out into what was their garden and upstairs into a former bedroom. But, get this, Grandmother Maria and other family members still live there.
When I dropped by, four generations are in the dining room. Son in the third generation, Alejandro, is greeting guests and coordinating their orders. His sister Karina runs the business end but since additional diners took over all the table space, she runs things on the sofa with her cash register and phone beside her. Her daughter and mom are both beside her on the couch. Granma is with her great grandson nearby.
La Casa is a long way from the tourist areas of Habana Vieja, and if you’re in Vedado or Miramar, it’s just a little tricky to find on a residential street in a completely non-tourist area of the city. The house itself is 50s moderne bordering on deco with an original terrazzo staircase and charming rooms.
The menu focuses some pretty fine seafood including grilled fish and lobster plus clams, shrimp, tuna and several octopus treatments. The real fun is heading off Havana’s beaten track to discover some Cuban family hospitality.