Hola Havana!: Cuba Libre’s Pop-Up Paladares Brings Cuba to DC

Written by Anita

May 27, 2012

Argentinean by birth, chef Guillermo Pernot’s first taste of Cuban cuisine came courtesy of his mother-in-law, Totty. As his love for the flavors of Cuba grew, chef Pernot began to dream of bringing several of Cuba’s most talented chefs to cook on American soil. “I wanted Americans to know that Cuban cooking is more than just rice and beans,” says chef Pernot.  It took over three years to make his dream a reality, but (luckily for us) Cuba Libre’s ongoing Pop-Up Paladares series now brings a little bit of Cuba to Washington, DC.

Paladares are small, family-run restaurants often located in the living rooms of Cuban homes. They have flourished in recent years, and chef Pernot has met several of their most innovative chefs during his repeated trips to Havana. We checked out the first Pop-Up Paladares event (listed on GregsListDC, of course!) in January, which featured a collaborative menu designed by chef Pernot and chef Luis Alberto Alfonso Perez. Chef Perez operates four of Havana’s most popular paladares: El Gijones, Bar Oviedo, La Tarraza, and Asturias.

Held in Cuba Libre’s new private La Galeria room, the meal began with some starter bites, including skewers of sweet mango and grilled baby octopus and nutty sticky squares of pork macitas. The first course featured a beautiful crudo de langosta—thin slices of delicate lobster tail meat, topped with a scoop of refreshingly cool pineapple sorbet. Pearls of balsamic vinegar added subtle tartness, truffle oil-infused black sesame seeds added crunch, and jalapeño slices added kick. For the second course, chef Perez prepared ravioles—mock ravioli, in which thin slices of eggplant stood in for pasta. The ravioli were filled with lamb ropa vieja and surrounded by a fragrant brothy infusion of hierba buena (mint) poured tableside. Next up was jabali—a meaty perfectly cooked baby wild boar rib chop, accompanied by a fruity sour orange and canela (cinnamon) compote and a pleasantly sticky and dense yucca tamal. Dessert offered flan de queso—Pategras cheese flan (which had the texture of a cheesecake rather than a traditional flan) served with a vibrant guayaba (guava) coulis and topped with what appeared to be shredded coconut. Surprise—it was actually ajo confitado (candied garlic)! The delicate combination of flavors seemed sweet one moment, savory the next.

Sorry you missed this meal? Then sign up now for one of the remaining Pop-Up Paladares. The next one (featured here on GregsListDC) is June 12th -14th and will introduce diners to Chef Alain Rivera Santana of Doctor Café. October will include a third chef (to be determined)—stay tuned to GregsListDC for details as they become finalized.

Want to go the extra mile(s)? Then plan now to join Cuba Libre’s culinary tour of Havana slated for November 9th-13th (newly added because of the popularity of its similar tour last month.)  Chef Pernot himself will accompany you as you explore the sights, sounds, and (most importantly!) tastes of this Caribbean island. Organized by InsightCuba, a licensed provider of people-to-people educational exchanges, you’ll dine in several of Havana’s best paladares, meet a host of talented Cuban chefs, and learn from the students and professors of the Cuban Culinary Association.  Vámos amigos!

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