It doesn’t look very appetizing now, does it? And its name, “old clothing” in Spanish, doesn’t make it sound like something you want to rush to eat. And yet, this simple Cuban dish is as delicious as anything you’ll ever eat. It takes some time to make, but it’s well worth it.
I first discovered Ropa Vieja in a copy of The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother I borrowed from the Berkeley public library. It was 1993, I was newly married and determined to cook for my husband. That year I became a cook, a good cook if I may say so myself, and Ropa Vieja has been a favorite I’ve gone back to time after time.
I haven’t modified the original recipe much, but I have found that this dish is best served with sourdough bread. Lots of it.
- 3 – 4 lbs chuck roast
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 bay leaves
Pat dry the roast. Season with salt and pepper on all sides.
Heat vegetable oil over high heat in a large cooking pot. Add the beef and brown on all sides. Remove roast. Pour out and discard fat. Return pot and beef to the stove. Add 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to low and cook for 2 hours. Turn off heat and let cool for at least an hour.
When the meat is cool, shred it into strips using your hands. Place in a bowl and pour the broth remaining in the pot over it.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, clean lidded pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until they start to caramelize. Add the bell pepper and cook until soft. Add the meat, tomato sauce, wine and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.
My friend Mauro recommended Habanas Cuban Cuisine as a good place to go for drinks with my girlfriends. He’d been there for a work function and had really enjoyed the mojitos – they have a wide variety. I figured it was worth a try.
We went there last Saturday night, as an early girls-only St. Valentine’s day celebration, and were very impressed both by the food and the drinks. It’s moderately priced and I would definitely go back.
The restaurant itself is not very impressive. The narrow rectangle dining room has white walls decorated by immense photographs of Cuba life scenes. The photographs are very pretty, but it was hard to see more than one from our table. In all, I thought the place lacked ambiance.
The menu is somewhat limited and features small plates and entrees. We were there mostly for drinks, so we only explored the tapas menu. We loved almost everything we got.
We started with an arugula salad, nicely dressed with in a walnut vinaigrette and topped with shaved Manchego cheese and some type of roasted seed. We got a large portion, which was good for 3 people. We all really enjoyed it – the contrast between the bitter leafs and the salty cheese was very nice.
I ordered the Mixed Grill, which consisted in two smallish skewers each with a chunk of marinated skirt steak, chorizo and pork tenderloin. It came with a chili mango sauce and sofrito rice. The steak and chorizo were both very nice, with strong flavors. The pork tenderloin was less so, but that’s pork for you. The rice was stupendous, specially eaten together with the sauce. I’d definitely order it again.
Aamani ordered the scallops, served with a ginger citrus sauce. We all enjoyed them, though I wouldn’t say they were particularly special.
Paz had the grilled shrimp which came with a cilantro-lime sauce. The portion was quite generous and the sauce was wonderful, even I enjoyed it. I think the shrimp came with rice.
Finally, we all shared a large plate of garlic fries, served with a sweet guava chipotle sauce and a chimichurri aioli. The fries were thin, crisp and had just the right amount of garlic. The sauces were also delicious, neither was spicy but they complimented the fries very well. Indeed, the fries were so good that I couldn’t help eating them with bread.
The bread, by the way, was also very good. It was fresh and reminded me of the bread back home.
As to the mojitos, we all enjoyed them. I had the pineapple one and was happy that it wasn’t too sweet or too sour – it didn’t taste much of pineapple, but it was good.
The service was efficient and friendly, the waitress warned me about an unpopular strawberry mojito, glasses were refilled frequently and plates removed quickly.
In all, I had a wonderful experience which I hope to repeat some time.
Habanas Cuban Cuisine
1518 Park Street
Marga’s Restaurant Reviews