Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poppin' Fresh!

From the "at least we know it's fresh" department...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Cumberland and President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, Arkansas

I went to this restaurant really wanting it to be great. For weeks I had seen the new sign on the building as I passed that corner getting on the Interstate. There was something intriguing about a “Mexi-Cuban Kitchen.”

But I have to admit, I was more anxious to find out about the Cuban part than the Mexi part.

Really, I should qualify that we went at lunch and the dinner session may be completely different. That being said…

From the menu one gets the idea that Cubans only eat variations of the Cubano sandwich, salad or soup. I had really hoped for a bit more adventurous selection of dishes to try. The young lady who waited on us strongly recommended the Cuban BLT which I just couldn’t bring myself to order. I just don’t think of BLT’s and Cuba in the same bubble.

We settled on a classic Cubano sandwich and a grilled chicken variant of the above. And, started with the “famous” Grandma King’s recipe hot sauce. This was delivered to our table along with a beautiful bowl of red corn chips.

But one bite told me that this was nothing more than canned tomato sauce. I mean just the sauce and nothing else. Well, there was a sprig of cilantro on top. I asked the waiter if she thought maybe the chef ran out of peppers. She looked puzzled and asked, “is it not hot enough?”

I told her that hot wasn’t even in the equation. She tasted it and pronounced it “just tomato sauce, it tastes like pizza sauce!” She took the offending bowl to the manager who marched determinedly into the kitchen.

Moments later he came out and apologized to us, telling us that the prep chef had failed to add any ingredients to it and thanked us for letting them know early enough in the day to fix it.

The waiter gave us a free bowl of cheese dip to make up for it.

When the sandwiches came, they were good and filling, but somehow I felt let down. It just wasn’t the exotic sandwich that I expected. In fact, both of them were pretty run-of-the-mill.

When the check came, it had scrawled across the top, “next time order the BLT!”


6 out of 10
Interior Design—nice details.

I could see the designer was trying to give it a trendy Latino breeze, but I think he/she neglected the whole picture while searching to do so. Have you ever entered a room in which every detail looks fine and thoughtful, but the whole design just feels scattered? Well, this is exactly it.

Wait Staff—very good looking, and very, very friendly.

I almost had the illusion that I was attractive today. But then I kind of suspected it’s because she barely had any one else to wait on besides us. Oh well, it could’ve all been my too self-centered perspective. One thing for sure, it wasn’t because we were an irresistibly handsome pair. But, after all, I enjoyed the service.

Sandwich— plenty, but needs more touch.

Despite of the waitress’ persistent recommendation on a BLT Cubano (I wonder if they have BLT in Cuba or Mexico.) I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich Cubano and my friend ordered a classical sandwich Cubano. And man, were they hearty sandwiches loaded with meats and cheese—hmmm! But wait, something’s missing here. Don’t get me wrong, they were good sandwiches, except they were everyday in the lunch box-packed with lots of calories-good, not stylish Cuban-Mexican restaurant good.

Layers, that’s the word! It lacked the layers of different textures and flavors I was searching for. Let’s be honest, I don’t come to this kind of fancy restaurant to bite into yet another regularity. I want to sink my teeth into a multi-layered experience, an adventure — exotic spices, tenderness, crispiness, grilled, fresh meats, fruits, vegetables, the sun, the beach, the palm trees, all mixed in this sandwich in front of me. Passion, mi amigo. Passion.

Overall—nice service and very nice concept. Both the sandwiches and the menu could be a little better defined. 6 out of 10

Things we want to try next time—it’s an interesting place.
I’m still curious about some other stuff. The mojito looks very inviting. Oh, we might try sitting outside on the patio next time around. It might just feel completely different when the sun puts some strokes in the picture.