Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Yolanda “Custom Jars” Coming Soon…

So, as I described in one of my earlier posts on my Havana trip last month, Yolanda, the custom roller / “house roller” from LCDH Melia Habana, mentioned something to me.  She’s apparently going to be coming out shortly with her own “custom jar” for her custom cigars.

Yolanda Medina is a lovely lady.  In her upper 60’s now, she’s been rolling at the LCDH store at the Melia Habana hotel for about 18 years, and has been rolling cigars for an astonishing 48 or so now.  Starting rolling at age 19 at the H. Upmann factory, she’s well renowned for her past experience as a roller, as well as a former production manager from both the Romeo y Julieta factory and the Partagas factory.  She’s been the house roller at the Melia Habana LCDH since 1997, and she’s well renowned for that.  And, she herself is a former Guiness World Record holder, for rolling one of the world’s longest cigars in the mid 80’s sometime, before Cueto came to fame recently for doing the same.  I think it’s fair to say that she’s in the big league of custom rollers that cigar enthusiasts flock to Havana for.  Herself, Jorge Lopez Leal (from Club Habana, and of “Monsdale” fame), Reynaldo from Conde de Villanueva, Cueto from the El Morro shop, and also formerly Hamlet from RyJ (when he was rolling there) – they’re all amazing rollers who are some of the most courteous and excellent “faces” for Habanos cigars.

On this past trip, I snagged myself a bundle of her custom piramides, her signature roll.  Those are what she’s most well-renowned for, and what she said she rolls 2-to-1 compared to all the other formats she rolls combined, I was told.  (And, as Alex, a good Canadian BOTL and usual fellow-traveller has told me before, she’s usually sold out of them, and he’s always in a bind to get those specifically, as they’re his favourites from the island).  Though, her custom 898’s / dalias are slowly but surely catching up, and she gifted me with one of those to try when I visited her that day – it definitely hit the spot for me as a late-morning start with a nice cappuccino.

But anyways, she’s in the works with coming out with a custom jar, if you can call it that.  As she explained to me, and as the below pictures show, it’s a wooden jar.  She stated that it was her intent and continuing-want to do a ceramic jar instead.  But the jar as-shown perfectly fits a 25-bundle of her custom 898’s / dalias, or will also fit about 19 of her custom piramides.  The wooden container is currently at a cost of $150 CUC’s, but she’s trying to negotiate a better price through the manufacturer to make it much more feasible, and back down to well inside of a two-digit cost she said.

Through the assistance of Fred, a Chinese businessman she’s had a long-standing customer friendship with, she was able to get LCDH’s and/or Caracol’s permission to be able to offer these custom wooden “jars” at her rolling table in the Habana Libre shop.  So, she made planning arrangements with a Chinese manufacturer, also with the assistance of Fred, to have the jars made – with her initial intent of ceramic jars, but her agreeing to be open to the wooden / cedar jar (as shown above) as a bit of a prototype.

As we chatted, she was right in the midst of rolling a 500-stick order for Fred of custom robusto extras, and said she would be going to China in April for a few weeks to visit him, and would hopefully be finalizing the jar arrangements.  She said she was planning on going back to her original want for a ceramic jar instead, but might still take an initial production-run of some of these wooden ones.

She said it’d likely all be sorted out over this spring, and would likely have ready stocks of them in hand by mid- / end-summer – plenty of time, hopefully, to have it sorted out prior to the next Encuentros Partagas festival in the upcoming fall.  I myself am looking forward to seeing the final results of these later on this fall hopefully.  And, will likely be loading up on more of her custom piramides and dalias too.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Food and Drinks in Cuba (Part 1 of 3)…

Yup, last month’s trip to Havana of course resulted in a level of indulgence of food, drink and cigars that I’m generally not able to pull off here at home.  At the end of a week in Havana, the body is generally aching and retching from the overload of many rich foods, drink, tobacco smoke and such.

With various friends generally in attendance, I hit a number of favoured spots, and some new ones as well…

1.  The back terrace of the Hotel Nacional.  Can’t beat getting a cappuccino here first thing in the morning, enjoying a mellow Monsdale or another smooth cigar, and relaxing through a nice breezy wake-up in the AM after a long night.  Similarly, a great spot to meet everyone pre-supper for a cigar and a mojito, or likewise to have a nightcap of a Cuba Libre / Cubata and a panini-grilled Cubano sandwich.  It’s a must-go location for me.

2.  Espacios.  This trip, many great times to start and/or finish off good nights with many friends took place here at Espacios, a newer spot in Miramar – a definite thanks to Nino and others for guiding me to this spot.  Feels like a great backyard summertime party, with the outdoor garden seating, low-volume music, and outdoor / backyard brick oven.  Lots of drinks enjoyed here – Cuba Libres and/or Cubatas were always refreshing and perfect, service was great with the staff there.  A nice bar without too much pretenses or pressure.  Doesn’t feel like how some spots have turned more and more into “meat markets”, hounding for the almighty dollar.

Not sure if I discussed it before, but at Espacios, I had a good series of conversations with Punch Joe.  One of those times, he explained to us that only a week before the Festival Habanos kicked off, the government changed some of the rules for bars.  Namely, private bars / restaurants are supposed to close / stop serving at 3am now, but state-run locations can still choose to stay open until 6am.  Ha!!!  Fie, I say!!!

3.  Tic-Tac Boquitas / El Rejoneo.  What a great little spot.  Nino turned a bunch of us on to this during last November’s trip, and I made sure to indulge a couple of times during this one.  One of the best things there is the hamburger and cheese boq’s – simply amazing (they didn’t have shrimp available for the shrimp-and-blue-cheese one when I was there).  Fatty and juicy beef (hell, could have been pork, for how juicy it was and lighter-coloured it was, compared to our Canadian beef).  Grilled onions and a kind of green pepper, serrano-ham-style bacon, and cheese (like a spiced Gouda without the seeds – very tart).  All piping hot from being cooked in an outdoor brick over and on soft and crusty fresh bread.  Amazing.  Juicy.  All for only 2 CUC’s each!  I ordered 3 because I thought they were the 1/2-size ones we got in November – instead got 3 of the full-size / giant ones.  Stuffed myself, packed up one, brought it back to my room – made an EXCELLENT “Taco Bell” substitute for the drunk-munchies at 5:20 am!!!  LOL.

4.  La Fontana.  I’ve actually never ate there before.  And, in reality, I didn’t do so again.  I was delayed in meeting up with the Fox- and European-group, and when I arrived, they were just finishing up eating…gasp…duck.  While it was apparently amazing, I decided to pass after the experience of a BOTL Aussie traveller in November.  I easily sustained myself on Cuba Libres and flan.  But, we had some good drinks there, and any place is good in my mind if they manage to make nudie art somewhat intriguing and tasteful.

5.  That-for-which-I’ve-forgotten-the-name.  (EDIT – it’s “El Chanchullero” as Nino corrected in a comment below.)  A great little lunch spot hidden around the block at the Capitolio – if I remember correctly, it’s just east of the corner of Teniente Rey and Bernaza, about 3 blocks east of the Capitolio.  Nino corrected my broken Spanish reading skills, and informed us that this place makes a big deal out of NOT being a place that Hemingway has visited (grantedly obvious, considering it’s brand new).  Was told this place is extremely popular for the hipper locals with higher means, and travellers that are in the know.  Extremely inexpensive, but fresh and delicious-in-its-simplicity.  Tapas and beef stirfy with salad.  Presidente beer from the DR, and followed by an espresso after the meal.  Wonderful.  Just watch out for the steep stairs.

More to come shortly…

Cheers all.