Sunday, May 20, 2007

Style over substance. Again.

Saturday night, and another attempt to find good food at non-rip-off prices. Our plan was to wander Lincoln Road (lined, you may recall, with eatin' joints), and do cocktails and apps at a couple of the best.


As it turned out, most of the restos were Italian. And most of these had maitre d's essentially acting as carnival barkers. As we walked past each place, they'd gesture at long tables piled with Saran-wrapped samples of the house specials, entreating us to try, inviting us to a seat, thrusting business cards into our unwilling hands. "Come on, nice couple, you come eat with us, good time, yes?"

Um, no. I don't buy cars from the guys who yell on TV on Sunday mornings, and I don't eat in restaurants that so obviously have no unique value proposition that the owner has to shill on the street. Sorry, buddy.

So after a half-hour stroll up one side of Lincoln and down the other (which was a show in itself, if only for the number of tiny dogs on parade), we settled on
Yuca, a nuevo latino resto with an interesting menu.

The only outside table remaining was not under an awning, and after the previous night's monsoon, we decided it would be safer to eat indoors.

I don't remember the last time I was in a place so loud. Not that there were many diners, either; more that every surface seemed designed to bounce sound back into the room.

When it was time to order drinks, the waiter recommended the mojito. "It's a classic traditional Cuban cocktail," he said, assuming we'd never heard of such a thing. So okay, we thought, it's obviously the house special. Let's try it.

Every mojito I've ever had looked like this.

The mojito at Yuca looked like this.

The Boy was indignant. "Is this from a mix?" he half-yelled (no other way to be heard) at the hastily departing waiter.

Okay, it didn't taste bad. But having spent the last couple of days sampling mojitos at various places, this was just sad. Not even a shred of mint leaf--though ironically, both my first app and my dessert came with generous garnishes of the herb, so it's not as though they were suffering a mint shortage.

We felt a little better when the food arrived. I had a roasted piquillo pepper stuffed with chorizo in a pool of cabrales cream sauce, the sweetness of the pepper and the saltiness of the sausage playing off nicely against the cheese. The Boy went for tasajo, a deep-fried yellow plantain wrapped around a cured beef filling, the sweetness of the two working well together.

For our second apps, I had tamale de caracol--a corn tamale stuffed with conch and fresh corn kernels. The filling was interesting and tasty, but could have been more generous; there was a good half-inch of thick, impenetrable cornmeal dough at either end. The Boy won this round with "montaña de Martí," a happy pile of sweet ropa vieja over a fried green plantain cake.

We don't usually do dessert, but the list was too intriguing to pass up: selections like mamey sorbet and sweet potato beignets (which they don't know how to spell).

I'm a sucker for tres leches cake, and they had one made with turrón, a Spanish nougat traditionally eaten at Christmas. It's hard and crunchy, but this cake was soaked with sweet cream, and turned out soft and dense. Delicious, but also too sweet and heavy to finish, especially served with guava cream cheese ice-cream. The Boy opted for "peras en cartucho," slow-roasted pear stuffed with dulce de leche, wrapped in filo, and served with fresh rum-raisin ice-cream. Again, a little too much sweetness (even for The Boy), though the combination of sweet and spicy flavors would make it a perfect Christmas dessert.

So the food made up for the "mojito." But then there was the waitstaff, who seemed largely inexperienced, not sure of what to do next, not noticing when water glasses were empty, occasionally shouting at each other for minor infractions.

As we were settling up (which in itself took a while), four waiters were engaged in pulling together two tables to seat a large party. Evidently there was one more chair than there were diners, so the unemployed seat was left in the middle of the floor like an abandoned car in the middle lane of the highway, forcing waiters and diners to skirt it each time they passed. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that it might be a good idea to move it ...


After dinner we wandered down Washington, two blocks parallel from Ocean, noting that there were fewer hip restos and more tattoo parlors and strip clubs. And then across onto Ocean to check out the Deco hotels lit with pastel neon, and the former Versace mansion-turned-nightclub (he woulda wanted it that way).

And then the rain came. Again.

We ducked into a doorway for a while, and then decided to make a run for it. Fortunately, we were saved from drowning by the appearance of the two greatest words in the English language: Martini Bar.

So we sat in the gorgeously Deco lobby of the
WinterHaven and had reasonably priced rum punches until the rain slowed down.

And so to bed.

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