Who knew we needed yet another Cuban spot in Miami? I mean, aren’t we already synonymous with everything Cuba? Pero, parece que sí, and I’m drinking the guarapo Kool-Aid, señoras y señores!
Stationed perfectly en la Calle Ocho, Cafe La Trova brings sazón and a little refresher on the traditional Cuban fare. The reason? James Beard Award-winner Chef Michelle Bernstein. Unless you’ve been living under la saya de tu abuela, you already KNOW she’s South Florida royalty: Bernstein, not tu abuela.
Vibing from the get-go with a live trova band on stage and decibels turned way up, my friends and I sashayed our way to the table during both my visits and eagerly studied the menu. The handcrafted cocktails, made by the authentic in-house cantineros and led by co-owner/ cantinero-in-charge Julio Cabrera, successfully hit the mark. I suppose his three decades of global experience came in handy. My choice? The Buenavista (Bombay Sapphire Gin + cucumber + gin + elderflower liqueur + sugar). Two tipsy thumbs up! Expect to see classic Cuban specialties on the menu: the Daiquirí Clásico (Bacardi Superior + lime juice + sugar), Mojito Criollo (Cruzan Light Rum + lime juice + sugar + mint + soda water + bitters), and even a Hotel Nacional (Plantation Pineapple Rum + apricot liqueur + pineapple juice + lime juice). Some cheeky fun ones round out the options: Paloma Sagüesera (Avión Silver + grapefruit + lime + agave + Aperil + tonic water) and of course La Chancleta (Yaguara Ouro Cachaça + ginger-honey syrup + lime juice) which comes served atop a wooden chancleta, así que pórtate bien.
The live music blared as the waitress took our order, authentically complete with “mi vida” y “mi amor” laced into her sentences. Despite the high-demand of the crowded room and its newly-opened status, the food mostly came out lightning fast.
What I tried:
Paella Croquetas: arriving with a shot of seafood caldo and a bit of saffron aioli. We could not get enough of these and almost immediately put in a second order. When I mentioned my love for the aioli, the server quickly offered to bring me a small bowl with more. Si, please! Sadly, the aioli disappeared during a second visit, but reappeared with our second flight when I inquired about its whereabouts. Here’s hoping it stays on for the long run.
Pan con Bistec: Read this well…it’s NOT a traditional one, and the sooner you get over it (note to self), the better. That’s because this one comes with a churrasco, caramelized onions and tomatoes, avocado, charred jalapeños (Como? You read that right), and un poco de secret sazón. No papitas during my first visit, but plenty during my last one. When I read about the jalapeños, I almost walked out. Kidding.
Arroz con Pollo: The bomba rice, saffron, y un ton of Estrella Damm cerveza (beer- in the best way possible) con un free-range half boneless chicken a la plancha did not disappoint. I’d forgotten the joy of well-beered, borderline ensopado rice and chicken. It’s been ages since I had one like it and the last one was probably made by my mom in our old Hialeah kitchen while dressed comfortably in her bata de casa. When the world melts away with every bite, and a rare silence takes over everyone at the table, you know this dish was an instant success. A must order!
Braised Then Grilled Short Ribs of Beef: Celery root purée, shaved fennel-apple salad, horseradish. I expected the purée to be malanga, to be honest. But this worked just as well. If the arroz con pollo hadn’t stolen the show, this dish would have been our top favorite. Second place isn’t so bad, right? Tender, fork-magnet beef, with the added cold crisp of the salad nicely complemented the hearty celery root and (for a brief moment) made us forget a tremenda pachanga was happening all around us.
Breadless en Miami? I get it. Not offering bread service is a thing everywhere now. But in Little Havana, a little hot and buttered piece goes a long way in my book! I was able to request some pan Cubano, but it arrived plainly: read… cold, and unbuttered. Sacrilégio, Dios mío! Dale, Michelle, please add some tostaditas for us gluttons.
UnCuban Time Upon arrival during my last dinner (7:30 pm), the perky hostess welcomed me and in the same breath informed me my table was ready (excellent!). But, we would have only until 9 pm to dine before giving back the table. Que? No. What? Shocked, I couldn’t help but think out loud, “You want my party of five to eat and drink in an hour and a half?” After several awkward seconds of silence and an exchange of blank stares, she dismissed her request altogether and said she would just sit “them” elsewhere. For the record, I never saw another large party arrive later on. I’m still not sure what that was about and hopefully, it’s just a one-time misunderstanding.
Even without the pancito and the little timed reservation problemita, I love what Cafe La Trova brings to the neighborhood, and our city: nicely executed Cuban-inspired eats by a passionate and knowledgeable local hand. Yes, it helps that Bernstein was spotted dancing mid-dance floor both times I visited too. Happy Chef, happy vibe, after all.
TIPS: Make a reservation. It’s a popular spot, and you don’t want to be the come-gofio in the corner who did not. Also, bring your dancing shoes; once the band and cocktails flow, the rhythm gets you, and you definitively don’t want to be the token pata sucia there.