I know I’m probably going out on a limb here, but so be it. I said it. Café La Trova in Little Havana raises the bar on Cuban food and ambiance in Miami. Not surprising since it’s the labor of love of famous chef Michelle Bernstein and another award winner, bartender and mixologist Julio Cabrera. It has the whole package – an authentic bar complete with the Cuban bartenders in traditional “Cantinero” attire and an enticing cocktail menu, delicious Cuban classics and Latin American riffs on the classics, live music every day of the week, and very good, friendly service. It gets a crowd of all ages including not the usual clientele on Calle Ocho — what I call the casually elegant “blue blazers”.
Besides dinner, happy hour is offered every day of the week from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. Happy Hour at this Cuban-inspired newcomer includes $5 drinks — like daquiris and mojitos — and Latin bites, like $5 croquettes and $6 empanadas.
Whatever you do, have one of their cocktails from the 50s. We’re talking a serious daiquiri or the Buenavista, a cocktail that earned Cabrera the cover of GQ and Bombay Sapphire’s ” Most Imaginative Bartender in the US”. It’s a concoction of Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber, mint, Elderflower liqueur, lime juice and sugar. It’s sweet but not overly so, citrusy, and served in a martini glass. Or, get this, there’s a chancleta cocktail which means “sandal” and it’s really served in a sandal! Choose to have your drink at the classic bar at the entrance or at a bar in the second room with a decor that brings to mind Miami in the 1980’s.
Go for drinks and some of their yummy empanadas, the hand cut steak with caramelized onions, Spanish olives and jerez sherry; sweet corn and chicken; or roast pumpkin with brown butter and melting cheese. Or, of course there are croquetas that are freshly made and taste it.
Or how about a tasty pan con bistec (steak sandwich), or the best version of a Cuban sandwich? We started with the empanadas and a standout , stewed garbanzos with chorizo, kale, melting fontina and spices. Chickpeas aren’t usually my thing, though heaven knows they’re a healthy protein .These were tender, tasty and the melted cheese clinched the deal.
That was followed by lechon con chicharrones – braised mojo marinated pork shoulder, steamed yuca, crispy pork skin and tangerine mojo. It was so tender, it almost fell apart.
I enjoyed my banana leaf wrapped fish. Cooked in an aromatic sofrito, it sat on a delicious bed of coconut rice and gandules (small black beans). Yummy. Friends got the crispy whole boneless snapper with avocadoes that ‘s on my list for next time.
Desserts are creative takes on classic Cuban sweets including michy’s bread pudding – chocolate, Cuban rum soaked raisins and orange rind; banana tres leches – bourbon gel and crunchy corn flakes; and flan with tortas de aceite (a light and flaky sweet biscuit).
Café La Trova is really a place to spend the evening. Start at the bar, then move to the table for a leisurely dinner, ending up with dancing (starts at 9 pm. On Wednesday through Sunday). Looking around the room, everyone was having a great time as did we.
Tapas, sandwiches and salads are in the low to mid teens. Entrees range from $19 to $36. Portions are good size, especially on the higher priced entrees, so can be shared as an entree. Cocktails are $12 and glasses of wine start at $9 and bottles at $33. Fun is what they call the Especial del Cantinero – a Cuban coffee, Cruzan single barrel rum neat and a cigar for $18.
A lunch special is offered every Monday through Saturday, three courses for $21.
Soon to come — a backyard where dominos will be played and cigars enjoyed for sure.
Cafe La Trova, 971 SW 8th Street, Little Havana (T.786-615-4379).