By Punch Palate Correspondent Megan McGrath
It’s officially the holiday season.Â Everywhere you turn there are holiday decorations, and you can hear White Christmas on the radio.Â Right about now I start to daydream about drinks with little umbrellas and warm weather.Â Never fear, I have the perfect place for you to drown your winter blues!Â You’ll feel as though you’ve been transported from the cold city to hot Havana as soon as you enter Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar.Â The charming decor will grab your right away, and so will the many mojitos and enticing menu.
I recently stopped by the restaurant for lunch, and got the pleasure of speaking with James-Beard award-winning Chef Guillermo Pernot about his exciting â€œPop-Up Paladaresâ€ Cooking Series, the first of which will be held this January 17-19th.
Chef Pernot made several trips to Cuba last year, and this cooking series will be the first time in decades that an American chef is able to host Cuban chefs in the US.Â The featured chefs are the most respected and renowned in Cuba.Â The â€œPop-Up Paladaresâ€ cooking series will feature four guest Cuban chefs and friends of Chef Pernot.Â These chefs will each combine their talents with Chef Pernot, to create a four-course price fixe dinner menu during their visits.Â All dinners are priced at only $39 per person (beverages, tax and gratuity are extra), and are reserved for 40 guests in the newly opened private event space, LaÂ GalerÃa at Cuba Libre. These unique dinners will have two seating times for each dinner, the first at 6:00 pm and another at 8:30 pm.
Chef Pernot will host his first vising chef, Chef Luis Alberto Alfonso Perez of El GijonÃ©s, Bar Oviedo, La Terraza and Asturias, January 17 â€“ 19, 2012.Â Chef Perez, is known for his creative and simple cuisine, and his influence has helped transform the culinary landscape of the city.Â This menu will feature Crudo de Langosta, lobster salad, pineapple sorbet with truffle oil-infused black sesame seeds;Â Ravioles, eggplant-wrapped raviolis with lamb ropa vieja filling and a hierba buena infusion;Â JabalÃ, baby wild boar rib chop with sour orange-canela compote and yuca tamal, and Flan de Queso, Pategras cheese flan with guayaba coulis and garlic confit.Â YUM! Stay tuned for more details on the second Pop-up Paladares menu from Chef Alain Rivera Santana of Doctor CafÃ© in June.
And if that wasn’t exciting enough, Chef Pernot and his wife Lucia (her great-great-grandfather was Cuba’s 3rd President), will lead group culinary tours to Cuba in the Spring of 2012!Â These thrilling trips are open to the public, and will be the first opportunity for many Americans to travel to the island due to restricted embargo-era U.S. regulations.Â Chef Pernot will personally serve as a guide, and will provide connections with Cuban chefs and citizens.Â Tour participants will have an opportunity to discover Cuba’s emerging culinary scene through visits to state-owned restaurants and paladares, including those participating in the Pop Up Paladares series.Â Sign me up please!Â I’m saving up all my vacation for this trip.
Oh and as for my lunch, Chef Pernot was kind enough to send some of his favorite menu items to our table.Â I truly enjoyed all of the ceviches, and if I had to recommend two I’d say to order theÂ CÃ³ctel de Camarones, a Cuban style shrimp cocktail with avocado salsa, and the Callos con Pomelo, citrus marinated sea scallops with a ruby red grapefruit salad and blood orange-passion fruit sauce.
In addition to ceviches, Cuba Libre has a wide-variety of fresh seafood plates.Â Some of my other favorites included the Pulpo con Berenjenas, truffle and citrus marinated grilled baby octopus with a Haitian eggplant salad, and the Frituras de Bacalao, perfectly prepared salted cod fritters with a homemade lemon mayonnaise.
My favorite meat entree was the Pato Ahumado, house-cured smoked duck with roasted corn salsa and a huitlacoche vinaigrette.Â If you ask me, duck is always aÂ good idea!
My favorite vegetarian dish, and also the best savory dish of the meal, was the BuÃ±uelos de Espinaca, spinach and manchego cheese puffs with a goat cheese-ranch sauce and organic olive oil.Â I could be perfectly happy eating these all night with a steady stream of mojitos.
Finally, we finished our luxurious lunch with a few (your read correctly) desserts.Â My top two wereÂ Tocino del Cielo, a traditional Cuban flan with fresh seasonal berries and the decadent Tres Leches de Banana, vanilla sponge cake soaked in three banana flavored milks, covered in chocolate banana mousse and served with caramelized banana.Â Tres LechesÂ is one of my favorite desserts, and I cannot help but order it anytime it appears ont he menu.Â This is absolutely theÂ best versionÂ I’ve ever had!
If you’re like me, you are already hungry looking at these pictures and will need to make several trips to Cuba Libre prior to the first Pop-Up Paladares event on January 17th.Â Baby, it’s getting cold outside, but it’s sure hot at Cuba Libre!
Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar is located at 801 9th Street (corner of H Street), NW Suite A in Washington, D.C.Â Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar serves lunch weekdays, brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and dinner nightly.Â For more information please call (202) 408-1600 or visit www.CubaLibreRestaurant.com.
**Punch Palate Correspondent Megan McGrath is a serious foodie turned avid food blogger.Â Megan believes that food is fun, and is always looking for the next big thing on the DC food scene!Â She is a Legal Recruitment Manager for a law firm in Washington DC, and handles all levels of attorney hiring for the DC, Denver and New York Offices.Â Megan lives in Arlington, and can often be found experimenting in her kitchen for her blog http://imperfectlydelicious.wordpress.com.Â Follow her on Twitter @imprfctlydelish **
Punch Palate Correspondent Megan McGrath is a serious foodie turned avid food blogger. Megan believes that food is fun, and is always looking for the next big thing on the DC food scene! She is the Assistant Director of Employer Outreach at a local law school in Washington DC, and works with all different types of legal employers and law students. Megan lives in Arlington, and can often be found experimenting in her kitchen for her blog http://imperfectlydelicious.com. Follow her on Twitter @imprfctlydelish.