What I first noticed upon entering Soul de Cuba was that every single table had a “reserved” placard placed in the center. But by the time I left, the restaurant was packed.
I was immediately relaxed by the intimate atmosphere and soothing mixture of World music and Cuban mambo. For a starter, I ordered sancocho – a type of porridge made of beef, yucca, and corn – followed by an entrée of paella valenciana, a dish primarily composed of rice mixed with seafood and chorizo. While I waited for my food I looked around at the old photographs of Cuba and Cuban cigar advertisements that line the walls of the small restaurant.
The food came relatively quickly. The sancocho was more simple than the usual recipe, perhaps because it was an appetizer rather than a main course. Its creamy texture was sufficiently dense, and the yucca gave the soup a smooth taste. The sancocho did need salt, which I realized was not on the table. After I asked the waitress for some, I overheard her asking other customers if they needed any as well. That’s good service.
The paella valenciana was disappointing. Paella is not usually prepared with a heavy sauce because the chorizo and seafood provide sufficient moisture. Soul de Cuba’s version was doused in a tomato-based liquid that masked a lot of the flavor of the dish, except for a strong black pepper taste. While there was a satisfactory amount of seafood (although one mussel tasted and smelled funny), there was hardly any chorizo, and the pieces I did find were tiny cubes that didn’t add much flavor to the paella.
The portion sizes for both plates were small, but I ended up feeling satisfied and full. The service was pleasant, and the attentive waitress was quick to take my order. While the Restaurant Week lunch menu excluded dessert, I decided to splurge and ordered Cuban espresso with a guava and white cheese empanada. The coffee was very strong and full of flavor — a great complement to the empanada, which was characterized by the sweet guava combined with the salty white cheese.
In short, the Restaurant Week menu was not as great as I had expected, but the rest of the menu offerings look very promising.
Correction: November 14, 2010
Due to an editing error an earlier version of this article’s headline misstated the name of the restaurant Soul de Cuba.