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

So, continuing on from my the first and second posts on these spots…

11.  Santy’s.  Simple atmosphere.  Rustic views.  Simply amazing seafood.  And great company – international and Cuban friends.  Just an overall amazing time, and will be one spot that I’ll have to continue to go to again and again.  So very glad I was guided to attend here.

12.  Starbien.  A unique house – apparently the owner (head chef too?) used to be the head chef for the French embassy, and was actually born in that house.  While it was decorated nicely, I wasn’t a fan of the overall experience.  The food was fairly nice – nothing mind blowing, but not bland either – I had a stuffed red pepper and Serrano ham tempura appetizer (very nice), and then camarones in strong garlic-and-butter sauce (okay, I guess).

However, the service sucked, in my opinion.  They shoved us in this little room (the VIP room apparently), and separated us away from the entire location – mostly due to us cigar smokers.  However, that stiffled out the non-cigar-smokers in our group.  It took 55 minutes (not that I actually started counting or anything) to get my FIRST drink, a Cubata (aged rum and Coke – nothing special or hard to make), and only after I asked 3 times.  They took our drink order only when they took our overall food order – not drinks, then appetizers, then main course, etc.  Took 25 minutes for us to get a second ashtray too, again, only after asking multiple times.  The waitstaff would frequently pop their heads in, someone would wave to their attention or cast a look, and then the waitstaff would disappear out again, closing the door behind him, and not helping out.  Nicky had to call the waitstaff into the room for additional rounds of drinks later on in the meal.  In the end, everyone was very blah about the food generally.  I’ll likely not plan on going there again.

13.  El Canyonazo.  This is a tourist-centric restaurant on the other side of the harbour from Habana Vieja, between the El Morro and La Cabana fortresses, just over through the tunnel.  I was taken here by a driver, a friend of a friend that I used for a day.  Courteous as I try to be sometimes, I let him talk me out of my wanted plans to go to El Templete that day for lunch.  I wish I hadn’t let him.  Don’t get me wrong – the service was impeccable (with some very lovely ladies), the music was nice, and the food was pretty darn good too.  But, it wasn’t El Templete, and that’s what I was in a mood for.  Oh well.  I still had a nice seafood mixed grill in garlic sauce.  And the locale, and especially the constant flood of classic cars, did make for a nice afternoon stop nontheless.

14.  Ivan Justo’s.  Wonderful.  Croquetas de pescado, with some of the best flambéed bananas that I’ve enjoyed.  A wonderful langosta dinner also – not quite a fresh or tender as the lobster that Nino and Gino enjoyed at Santy’s, but very tastly nonetheless.  Caribbean lobster is very different for me compared to what we get in Canada – the Atlantic lobster we enjoy is a much sweeter and more tender meat, with Caribbean “langosta” being more chewy (I guess that’s the easiest way to describe it).  But this was wonderfully prepared.  The guava flan was just icing on the cake for me…but then I had a “hit” of Nino’s “tres leches” dessert.  WOW. R ich, decadent, and a yet-so-simple presentation in a tin can.  Reminded me of a custard mixed in layers with dulce de leche sauce (actually, that’s probably exactly what it was, lol).

Such a wonderful meal there shared with great company, in a beautiful little paladar, relatively hidden (once again, like many of Nino’s hotspots) down a non-descript looking alleyway in Havana.  A stellar restaurant to cap off my week there, and my last group meal shared with friends during this trip.  Perfect.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – Cohiba Piramides EL 2001, Unk. code; Final Score – 93

[EDIT / NOTE – I actually wrote this review on Feb 25th earlier this year, ahead of my Feb-Mar Havana trip.  But, for whatever reason, it looks like it wasn’t published, and I just noticed it sitting in my “Drafts” folder while compiling some other reviews.  So, here you go…]

So, in “recovery” mode after last November’s Encuentros Partagas, I decided to indulge a little for some good “me-time”.

This cigar was from a charity auction event from earlier in the year, and as such, I’m not 100% sure of the box code from this sample.  My initial plan was to set this aside, and save it for a special event.  Well, simply, surviving the monsoon week we had in Havana in November, the digestive issues of a fair few of us, and having my wallet get raped by Customs on my way back, well, frankly, an afternoon to myself to sit back in the hot tub and indulge was enough of a special event for me.

This was my first of these, that I recollect, since I got back into cigars in 2005 or so and started keeping records in a Cigar Dossier (highly recommend it to those who want helpful tasting notes at hand, and are quite simply, uhhhh, anal retentive enough like me to keep up with it, LOL).  I think I might have tried a couple of these when they came out, but I’m not 100%, and there’s nothing in my recent notes.  So, for all intents and purposes, I was really going into this cigar with a blank slate.  Albeit, with some hopes.

A revered cigar – how did it fare?

Reviewed Cigar:  Cohiba Piramides EL 2001

Box Date:  Unk. (2001-2002 production, 2002 release)

Factory / Manufacture Code:  Unk.

Packaging:  Came in 25-boxes, varnished semi-boite nature box

Price per cigar:  Unk. initial cost, paid $110 or so at the charity auction

Length:  6 1/8″, or 156 mm

Ring Gauge:  52

Format:  Pyramid

Weight:  Unk. (forgot to weigh this bad boy)

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This cigar was quite nice.  A darker wrapper with an ever-so-slight sheen, this cigar actually had a nice, maduro-like-but-silky wrapper.  Early Edicion Limitada program cigars were (and sometimes still are) characterized by thick, heavy, fire-retardant wrapper leaves.  In the early years of the EL program, it was only the wrapper leaves that were aged for at least 2 years (as opposed to 6-12 months usually), but all EL releases since about 2007, if I recall correctly, have all tobaccos used aged to at least this 2 year mark (my Trinidad Ingenios EL 2007 were part of the start of this).

This cigar’s only real blemish I could find, construction-wise, was one small water spot on the wrapper – and, while it’s noticeable on the darker wrapper, it does NOTHING to affect the performance of the cigar, nor my scoring on construction.  The foot itself was also very nicely bunched and arranged, and the colour palate to the rich tobaccos within were wonderful – a great “mixing” evident in there.  No hard or soft spots – construction-wise, this thing was in the Goldilocks zone!

After clipping the head, taking some cold draws….mmmm, rich black tea with a honey tinge.  Almost a dark element there – old leather perhaps?

Opening Impressions:  After a lighting up and initial draws, the opening had a perfect draw and smoke volumes – took to flame and lit well.  Light wispy smoke, but fairly potent and powerful – big hits of earth and leather.  No “Cohiba-ness” to it at all (not surprising, with the EL thing).

First Third:  Into the first third, I noticed that the burn was easily transitioning the burning cigar to darker charcoal-coloured ash, which was somewhat soft and flakey.  The smoke wasn’t creamy or overly viscous.  Thin smoke, but some decently potent flavours there.  Sitting just above the medium mark on boldness, but just below on potency.  Some mild black pepper on the retrohale, but lots of leather and earth on the tongue.  Some dark black tea in there too.

While the smoke itself was thin, I was still getting big smokey mouthfuls when pulled on.  Blue smoke off the burnt end, pure white, almost fog-like smoke on the exhale from the mouth, and mildly-dark grey charcoal ash – this thing was a colour palate.

Second Third:  Into the second third, it was continuing along somewhat similarly.  Burn was continuing to be fairly wonky, but no so bad as to need a torch correction.  Mild leather stepping back now, hmmm….

Big, rich, smokey honey tinges.  Almost to a slightly darkened-but-not-quite-burnt caramel tone.  Yup – rich, dark, unfiltered, smoke-riddled honey.  Man, it blended so nice with the mild leather and earthiness of this cigar.

Almost got hints of old hay, swinging in and out of the dark honey hits – when one faded out, the other one stepped in.

Final Third:  Into the final third, similar to the second in burn qualities.  Needed to do some torch touch-ups – the burn just wouldn’t find that razor’s edge.  The honey and hay sweetness started to subside, and then gave way to a flow right back to the old leather and earthiness, this time accompanied by that dark black tea essence in full stride.

Smoked this puppy right down.  Deeee-lish.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  This cigar was a treat.  A much-needed, wanted, and enjoyed treat.  The wonky burn and such deflected a few points, and parts of it were a bit more bland than others, but without that nice, potent perfumy aspect that I find so lovely with aged cigars in the 10-15+ year range.  Was hoping to get that with this one, and it lost out on not having that present.

All that said…

Price justification (either for this cigar as a single or as a box currently)???

No, not really.  While I was glad to purchase it as some of my planned money outlay at the charity auction, it wasn’t a dollar-performer for me.  Still a wonderful experience nonetheless, and whether it cost me $20 or $200 wouldn’t have affected the score allotted for this singular smoking experience.  It’s just one to be scratched off the list, so to speak.



While there were some dark honey qualities hiding in the experience, there was no Cohiba-esque-ness (if that’s a word, LOL) to this cigar for me.  None of that lemongrass and beaniness to it (vanilla bean, light coffee bean).  While there was honey in strides, the leather and earthiness took away from that a bit for me.

And, I have to say, with the overall flavours as it came across my palate, mixed in with the hay tinges, I couldn’t help but think:  My gawd, this should be labelled as a Trinidad Piramides!!!

It got me to thinking – now, THAT is a blend that could really work well in a piramides.  Amazing that they haven’t done that yet, in adding a pyramid to the Trinidad line – but, then again, it’s perhaps not that surprising given their past actions in butchering the line apart, discontinuing the Trinidad Robustos T that many loved so much (and only after a minimal time on the market), and their current actions in loveless quality control that’s been going on with Trinidad in recent years (its sooooo hard to find decent boxes of Fundadores lately!)

But, a great experience nonetheless, but to see this blend with a Trinidad label on it would strike me as more in keeping than with the Cohiba band.

Final Score:  93

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 25 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  November 27th, 2014; lit up at 1:40 pm, done at 3:05 pm

Paired Beverage:  El Dorado 12 & Coke

Last Meal:  Three cheese hamburger helper, 12:30 pm

Smoking Conditions:  Mild wind, overcast, 1 degree Celsius, 73% RH

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Food and Drinks in Cuba (Part 2 of 3)…

So, continuing on from my earlier

6.  La Terraza / Prado 309.  Always on my list to hit.  Amazingly, this is the first trip that I’ve not had the leg-of-lamb.  Tried the mixed grill instead.  AND they were unfortunately out of my grilled octopus appetizer.  Still was a great meal, with great company and conversations with Luca and Michel from Europe (both in the cigar industry, there as part of the Portmann group for the festival) – great company and conversations, so not many pictures unfortunately.

7.  El Aljibe.  The “chicken shack”, as I like to say.  Chicken, rice and beans, fresh bread, and other traditional sides – nothing special really, but that’s actually what makes it special.  The sauce is made from a mixture of the chicken drippings and the squashed juices from fermented oranges – it’s amazing on the chicken itself, but also mopped up with pieces of the fresh crusty bread.  The cigar shop next door isn’t too bad either.  A great open-air spot.  Very fresh and well-done food, even for all it’s simplicity, as a state-run restaurant (just beware of giant tour bus groups coming through occasionally).

8.  Cafe Laurent.  Having never ate here before, but hearing good things generally, I was almost detered from a report that Nino did about an experience that he and Yannick had there in November.  However, I gave it a shot, being just a small 2-block walk from the Nacional.  I’m glad I did.

Some fresh, piping hot and wonderful croquets (only 4 CUC’s), and a nice “creamy seafood rice” (10 CUC’s).  Not quite an actual paella, but a saucy variant of one, and it still hit the spot.  Washed down with the obligatory mid-day mojitos.  A Japanese gentleman sitting at the table next to me was having the mixed grill with lobster tail, shrimp skewer, etc., and said it was divine, and much better than when he had himself been there in November.

It’s also a great little spot with a nice terrace and some pleasant views.  A very nice mid-way spot to lunch on the way between the Hotel Nacional and the Habana Libre.  I’m glad I gave it a chance, but I don’t think I’d want to be there with a larger group, due to space limitations.

9.  Hotel Saratoga.  The rooftop pool patio is a great little spot to visit – not for a swim, but to have a drink, order some munchies, and take in the wonderful view at sunset.  I made sure to hit this after one day of walking around Habana Vieja, and dug into a cigar, a flan, and some Cubatas, all while I took in the sunset over Havana, lighting up the Capitolio, Parque Central, Parque de la Fraternidad, the Gran Teatro, and the various other landmarks.

10.  VIPHabana.  A new spot that was introduced to us by Yannick and Nicky.  Wonderful.  Had a great langosta dinner with Cubatas and a flan – doesn’t get too much better than that.  The outside patio that we were seated at was wonderful – as Nino stated, indoors was almost a bit too pristine, and Euro-cliche for most of us, but the mellow piano music drifted outside to us on a wonderful evening.  This is where I also unfortunately was succumbed to Gino’s hassling about my after-dinner cappuccino, LOL (and yes, to remind again, while he had a pink lighter and bright yellow pants on).

More to come…

Cheers all.