...We meet to Eat!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

C is for Cuban

Cuisine Club began for me with Shweyta's Google talk status " A for Argentina". Having worked with Cesar Pelli Architects, who is originally from Argentina, I got curious and happen to ask Shweyta was she is Argentina or traveling there. She mentioned about the Cuisine club and at once we (Hemant, my Husband) decided, consider us part of the club.

For those of you who don't know me, Shweyta and I went to the same undergrad school in Bombay ( I still can't say Mumbai), where I happen to be graduate a year before her.

For the third Cuisine club meeting 'C', I chose Cuban restaurant Guantanamera. I was debating between Chilean and Cuban, since I happen to find the only Chilean restaurant in
NYC. I have couple of Chilean colleagues, who raved about the restaurant as the only place in US where you can get authentic Chilean food. But being a vegi, and no veg dishes on the menu, I decided to check with the Chef, who happen to describe dishes that were nothing closer to being Chilean. Chile, or as a matter of fact, most of the South American cuisine is very meat oriented, hence I knew it would be a challenge to find a place that would cater to all types of people. But Guantanamera came as breather where menu had enough veg dishes for us to really go there. Thus 7 of us decided to meet at Guantanamera to enjoy Cuban food.

Guantanamera claims to be a classic Cuban cuisine with Latin dance nights, live entertainment and hand-roll
ed cigars. Its located on eight avenue, NYC and steps away from the Theatre District.

It being Saturday night it was packed when we reached the restaurant. While waiting to be seated we ordered drinks where we started with Mojitos, (the restaurant claims to be the King of Mojitos) and I am sure every one there would agree, or correct me if I am wrong, since we had 3 pitchers of Mojito that night. Though we started with coco flavored Mojito which I really liked, where Hemant, Amit and Shwetya went with Mango flavored Mojito, we ordered the traditional Mojito(White Bacardi rum, muddled limes, macerated mint leaves,splash of soda and garnished with a sugar cane and mint) pitcher, which was the highlight of the night, where M became the bonding letter, where Rochak said, "M for Mojito, M for Masti and M for Mohegun". It has kinda stayed with me.

In appetizers we started with PAPAS RELLENAS (Stuffed potatoes swith picadillo and cheese), which looked like aloo bonda but with cheese filling. We all really like it and did order more of it. I wish I could describe what rest of the appetizers were, but since they were meant for the carnivorous I didn't pay much attention, but members do describe the remaining appetizers. But the focus of the night still was traditional mojitos.

As we were enjoying the mojitos, eating some aloo bonda :) and getting to know each other, the live mambo music band came in where the mojitos really kicked in and lifted our spirits even further. When I described the Cuban dining experience to a collegue who sits next to me, she said, "Americans are suppose to hate Cuba, but this tiny little country and it people really know how to enjoy life". I think Guantanamera proved the point. The band played the song Guantanamera" ("girl from

After a long time when our server finally asked us for food, that we decided to order entree since all of us were really enjoying the mojitos and live music and didn't pay much attention to food. Hemant and I ordered PAELLA VEGETARIANA (Saffron rice with assorted mixed vegetables). It was simple rice and vegetable dish, but tasted delicious and looked amazing. It was served in a sizzler plate, that added in enhancing the colors of saffron rice and all the different vegetables. As fas as I remember we all finished everything we ordered, which is a sign that we really liked the food, or we were just plain hungry. Once again, non-vegs will need to update their dishes, because as usual I dint pay much attention, but they all looked very appetizing.

Lastly, we did order a dessert, but I can't remember what it was, cause I think by then most of us were totally lost in mojitos and music again. But then dessert had nothing to do with it being Cuban.

The live band kicked it again later in the night where people started dancing w salsa. Shwetya and Amit joined the group of dancing couples followed Natasha and Rochak. The four really has some good salsa moves and I think they really enjoyed, we surely did watching them.

Overall, I can say that dining at Guantanamera has given me a slight glimpse in knowing how Cubans enjoy life and I hope the rest of the crowd had similar experience. This is my version of the night, but please feel free to add, subtract, comment and describe Cuban night in your own words.

Thanks Shweyta for starting this, where all of us can add some amazing experiences to our life.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

B is for Belgian

Our second Cuisine Club meeting was at Cafe De Bruxelles - a Belgian restaurant, since B is for Belgian. We had another option - Bavarian food, but that did not have too many vegetarian entrees, so we shall reserve that pick for another time, when we have only carnivores present.

Cafe Des Bruxelles had me skeptical at first, because their website links din't work, and the number listed on that very primitive website was wrong. However, whatever few reviews of the restaurant I read were fairly good and we decided to try it anyway. Using our ever trustworthy and reliable menupages site, we were able to get a reservation for 11.

Cafe Des Bruxelles was truly what you'd call a pleasant surprise - the food was excellent, the ambience great and the service fairly bearable. The restaurant is located in a quieter part of East Village, but was buzzing with activity by the time we got there. The restaurant decor is fairly functional, where black and white picture frames of some famous Belgian landmarks adorn the walls. The restaurant was noisy and crowded and packed with people, which is a fairly typical of restaurants in the city on Saturday night. Cafe Des Bruxelles has a huge selection of imported Belgian beers and we all ordered an average of 2-3 beers through the course of the night. I had a pale ale called Leefe which was excellent and just what I wanted - light and flavorful with my chicken entree.

We ordered appetizers for the entire table including mussels a la escargot - baked mussels with garlic butter (absolutely delicious and not just because it is an aphrodisiac); plate de campagne - homemade country pate; comate au montrachet - baked tomato filled with goat cheese and served with fresh wam basil vinagrette (the tomato was baked just perfectly and with each bite, the cheese melted in our mouths) and the feuillete de champignons suavage - wild mushrooms baked in a puff pastry - all of which were delicious. The portions were small, but with these many appetizers, it was enough to go round the table. The dishes that really stood out were the mussels and the goat cheese filled tomato. Cafe Des Bruxelles claims that mussels is their speciality and they also claim the distinction of having been the restaurant that introduced mussels to America. Now I don't honestly know or care if that's true, but what I did learn is they sure know how to make those mussels tasty!

After that very fulfilling first course, we ordered entrees for each of us and beers to go along with our food. I stuck with my Leefe, but the men tried darker ales that might go along well with red meat and seafood. I ordered a chicken entree - the Poulet Facon Du Chef - chicken breasts filled with sweet peppers, onions and wild mushrooms. Each of our entrees came with pomme frittes or french fries. The chicken was very well done and came in six round portions filled with the onions, peppers and mushrooms. I couldn't taste much of the mushroom but the sweet peppers finely complemented the onions and whatever mushroom were baked into the dish. All round the table, each raved about their particular dish and the choice of beer, and so my conclusion is that it was definitely worth making a trip to this restaurant.

For dessert, we were too full and in too much of a hurry to catch that weekend's new flick, so we decided to order just a Belgian chocolate cake to share. It was a good sized portion that could be shared by all, but although appetizing, what disappointed me was that it wasn't warm..it was cold and crumbly to the taste and any good pastry chef, heck, any good eater, would know that chocolate cake, especially, gourmet chocolate cake, must never be had cold.

Apart from this small disappointment, I must say that Cafe des Bruxelles exceeded all expectations - the food was very good, the ambience perfect for a Cuisine club outing and the service fairly prompt (and I say "fairly" because occasionally our server would disappear and we could never find him when we needed to order!). It was a fun evening, filled with good conversation, better company and great food. Cafe des Bruxelles is a restaurant highly recommended for the Belgian experience.

PS: I might have honestly left something out, so others, please feel free to chime in with their comments.