3 November, 2009
Cuban Revolution, American Tobacco District (Durham)Posted in : Dining in Durham - NC, Restaurants on by : The Gourmez
318 Blackwell Street
American Tobacco Campus, Durham
Tapas: $4-8 Sandwiches/Wraps: $6-7.50
Cuban Revolution is a restaurant that loves to spark discussion – heated ones are preferable. They proclaim themselves Durham’s most discussed restaurant on the top of their menu, and they might be right, at least based on this summer’s online discussion of their opening. With a bemused expression, I’ve followed the reactions to their inflammatory decor and philosophy, which includes graffiti-styled portraits of Fidel Castro, Che Guevera, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy.
Some people have been outraged that anyone would hang up a picture of Castro and declared that they never will set foot in the place. Others were happy that Durham might be gaining a good Cuban restaurant. I just wanted to try it out for the novelty.
Inside at night, the restaurant is dim. There are lots of round tables crowded together and one wall of half booths. Cuban music plays from the speakers. In addition to the portraits, there is constant video footage running near reception. Something with soldiers was on while I was there but I didn’t pay it much attention.
The menu is as loud as I’d expected from others’ reviews. The random facts and thoughts placed in between menu items are definitely meant to provoke and if you don’t want to ponder what on earth the number of people who died in the Vietnam and Korean wars has to do with the United State’s embargo on Cuba, then this might not be the place for you. Political musings aside, the menu layout makes it quite difficult to decide what to choose, so we all opted to share some tapas rather than try sandwiches or entrees. We also split a liter of sangria that hit the right marks; it was dry and had the perfect proportion of fruit to wine.
Our first round of tapas included fried green plantains with garlic dip, ham croquettes, sweet potato fries, and a chicken empanada.
One of my friends found the plantains, which were cut in rounds rather than spears, preferably to ones she’s had elsewhere. I thought the batter was too thick and the plantains flavorless. The garlic dip was very strong. The sweet potato fries were fine and I enjoyed the light adobe seasoning they were tossed in. The ham croquettes were moist and tasty and came with a spicy remoulade that I think had some chili powder and horseradish. I found the empanada’s batter also too thick, almost like the outside of a fried pie, but the chicken was juicy and spicy.
Round two consisted of Manchego cheese with quince paste, a beef empanada, roasted piquillo red peppers with feta on cuban toast, and crabcakes.
The Manchego cheese definitely won this round for me. The quince paste was like a thick jam, almost close to thick fruit leather in texture and went great with the hard, crisp cheese. The ground beef in the empanada was bland and boring; definitely opt for the chicken option instead. The roasted peppers tasted great with the feta but I thought a thin, toasted breaded would work better than the soft cuban type, though my friend who liked the plantains disagreed again. The thick crabcakes were pretty good but nothing to write home about.
After a magic show by David Copperfield at DPAC, we came back to Cuban Revolution for dessert and drinks. I had a cafe cubano along with a slice of tres leches cake.
The cafe cubano did not have a good balance of sweet to bitter, so I think I’d pass on it in the future. I’ve had much better tres leches cakes before; this one had a thick custard-like layer and drippy whipped cream on top. It was okay, but didn’t thrill my taste buds. My friends’ flan and gigantic chocolate cake were better options for dessert.
All in all, Cuban Revolution has average food in the midst of their intriguing, if only for novelty purposes, atmosphere. There are still a number of dishes that I’d like to try, so I’ll probably be back.