Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kuba Kuba

Photo from Kuba Kuba's website, by Chris Smith

Rating: 3.5 stars

Nestled in the Lower Fan, this quaint little spot is known to serve up the best Cuban food in town. So if you are craving some traditional Cuban dishes, or want to expand your taste buds into something new, Kuba Kuba is probably one of the better options in Richmond. It offers an eclectic experience that might just make you feel like you have indeed traveled to the little island itself.

I have told my friends often that I would like to try this place, and a month or two ago we finally found the perfect night. The four of us headed over on a lovely spring Friday evening, and upon walking in I found a small, 1950's looking restaurant, with a few tables and booths, and a dining bar complete with 50's style stools. Not really what I was expecting, but it is pretty charming in its own way.

Packed house...

At the front of the restaurant we were greeted by a wall of reviews and newspaper articles touting the greatness of this place, and a couple of benches for waiting. It took a bit, but after a few minutes we were approached by a hectic looking waitress, and while there were two tables that could have been pushed together for us to use, we were asked to wait for a booth to open up. I was not too happy about this, but apparently it is their policy, and I suppose with a small, busy, restaurant it is best to conserve space as much as possible. As a project manager who always strives for efficiency I was willing to let that one go. Sadly though, the booth right next to us while we waited was taken up by two people watching a video on their laptop while they ate nothing. much for efficiency.

After waiting about 10 minutes, while other smaller groups were seated ahead of us, we finally got our booth. As I glanced around the restaurant I could see that it had been decorated to reflect the owner's family, with original family photos from the 50's adorning the walls and recreated as works of art painted around the restaurant. It's a pretty cute concept, your typical family restaurant decor taken to an extreme. Shelves of packaged Cuban foods and drinks also align the walls like a corner store, reminding you of the culture you are supposed to be experiencing.

Family photos as art!

Once we were seated we perused the menu, and my friends let me know that the specials were on a chalkboard behind me, above the dining bar area. While it was a little uncomfortable having to turn around in my seat to check them out, at least they were very legible. I think it would be nice to have more description available about the specials on a paper menu though, because I was not very familiar with the dishes and did not have much time to focus on the chalkboard, which prevented me from trying something from the list.

Specials on chalkboards ... turning around in my booth to get this shot.

For drinks, three of us split a bottle of wine (the list is not extensive but the options cover pretty much everything) and one of our friends chose from the limited beer list, opting for a $1 Miller High Life pony bottle. We encouraged him heavily on this choice (because really where do you EVER see pony bottles?) and he was ecstatic about it once he got his beer. In fact, he was adamant that I give this place an extra half star just for the pony bottles ... very adamant about it ... as in he would not stop talking about it the rest of the night...

Pony bottles!

So now that I have gotten in the bit about the pony bottles, back to the restaurant. Not being that familiar with Cuban food, I settled on the Cuban sandwich, really branching out I know, but I figured that I would keep on the safe side for my first trip here. Another of my friends followed me on the sandwich, while the other two got Arroz Con Pollo (very traditional chicken dish with yellow rice) and Paella Valenciana (Spanish rice with clams, mussels, shrimp, and chorizo). We also ordered an appetizer of tostones (deep-fried plantains).

Honestly, I am not a huge fan of fried plantains, I know alot of people love them though, and Kuba Kuba's are very good. Sweet and salty, and fried to perfection. My only drawback was that they also come with all the sandwiches. Had I known that, I would not have eaten so many as an appetizer, so just FYI on that if you have never been here before.

The Cuban sandwich was delicious, the meat was tender and juicy, the cheese was heartily applied and the bread was perfectly crispy and chewy. It is also a big sandwich; I definitely couldn't finish it after having an appetizer. But man was I craving some french fries to go with it! I guess I am so used to having that salty taste to complement a sandwich that the tostones where just not cutting it for me. If I could pick one thing to change for this restaurant it would be to add fries to the menu as a side option (even if they are not very Cuban).

Cuban sandwich and tostones ... delish!

For the other dishes, the Arroz Con Pollo was very good, and it offered alot of food, with two large chicken breasts, veggies, and rice all mixed together. The Paella was similar, though it had alot more broth on it, which unfortunately made it a bit too salty. All of our dishes were of ample size and most of us could not finish, so you definitely get your money's worth here. Dishes range from $7 to $20, so you can pick how fancy and how expensive you want to get. They also have non-Cuban options like a New York strip and pork shank if you get dragged here and aren't in the mood for Latin American tastes. We did not opt for dessert but I have heard great things about the Tres Leche Cake and I will be sure to try that next time.

Arroz Con Pollo = alot of food.

Paella Valenciana ... more broth and a little salty, but still good.
Outside of the food there are a few complaints though. This restaurant is very small, like I said, so if you get here on a busy night you could definitely be waiting for a while. And I don't think this place would be good at accommodating large parties. We had to wait for a booth while there were open tables, and while the service was fine, it was nothing special. Also, it was very hot the night we were there (one of the guys was pretty sweaty, and I do not get hot easily, so if I say it was hot, it was hot). We attempted to laugh it off by saying they were trying to make us feel like we were really in Cuba, but it did make the night rather uncomfortable.

There isn't alot that is fancy about this place, but it doesn't claim to be fancy, so as long as you go in with that expectation, I don't think you will displeased. I can't see myself dying to go back here, but if I was in the neighborhood I certainly wouldn't mind stopping by. If you are looking for a special night out with an extravagant experience, look somewhere else, but if you love Cuban food, want to try it for the first time, or just desire a chill night and a beer in a pony bottle, I would definitely recommend hitting up Kuba Kuba!

The pony bottle was the star of the night!

Check out the Kuba Kuba website at:

Be Real.

Kuba Kuba on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cafe Caturra

Rating: 5 stars

Are you looking for a place to enjoy a nice glass of wine on a patio? Want to have a tasty sandwich in a charming, laid back, atmosphere? Craving a great salad?

Well look no further than Cafe Caturra.

This is one of my absolute favorite places to go in Richmond. There are three locations around town, Midlothian, Grove Avenue, and Short Pump. I can personally only speak to the Midlothian branch, but I am sure it is a fair representation of this fast growing, all in one, coffee house/wine bar/cafe.

If you are desiring a fancy night out with a waiter and full entrees, this is not your place, but if you are out shopping for the day and need to refresh yourself, want somewhere fun to have a drink with your friends, or are just looking for a quick bite that is great quality, consider giving Cafe Caturra a try.

When I first started going here I thought it was a new chain that had ventured into Richmond, as great care has been put into making this establishment feel like it has been around for a while and that they know what they are doing. You will not find any peeling walls or dirty floors here, and the bathrooms are all spacious and modern (which is hard to say for many local coffee shops/cafes).

Photo accredited to Cafe Caturra's (Midlothian) Facebook page.

The inside of the cafe is very cute and welcoming, with rich dark woods, warmly colored walls, and soft lighting inviting you in. A variety of table options accommodate all sorts of groups, and a large wood burning fireplace, surrounded by four comfy, high back, chairs presents an ideal option for a little wine and reading.  The decor looks like it came right out of Anthropolgie (love it!), which adds a perfect mesh of classy and hip. There is also a bag of coffee beans and a huge coffee grinder in one corner of the cafe, causing the rich scent of coffee to greet you as you walk through the door. And while you dine or drink, feel free to peruse the interesting images of local artists which are displayed throughout the cafe.

The back patio (my favorite part) has plenty of tables and a few umbrellas, as well as a roof over the middle, so you can enjoy either the shade or the sun, depending on your preference for the day. A second fireplace also adorns the patio, so if you still want to enjoy the outdoors once the weather turns cooler you now have an option!

Awesome outdoor patio! Photo accredited to Daniel A. from Foursquare.
When you have selected your table and are now ready to order your food, head on over to the bar area where you can either go ahead and order or do a little wine tasting before you decide. I highly recommend you do some wine tasting from their extensive list! Cafe Caturra prides itself on being a great wine bar (they actually have their wine "on tap" ... literally), and you can taste anything you want. They offer 3, 6 and 9 oz glasses, as well as bottles, so you can drink several different varieties, or go with one big glass of one you love. While tasting, be sure to grab a few of the appetizers they have at the bar for you to try!

Being that it is a wine bar, and a good one at that, their wine is certainly not cheap. There are only one or two options at around $6 a glass, and the rest range from about $7-10. But, it is all excellent wine and they offer many options you will not see elsewhere in Richmond. We have discovered several types of wine that we now enjoy on a regular basis specifically because we were able to try them at Cafe Caturra (Viognier and Gruner Veltliner to name a few).  They also hold actual wine tastings on a regular basis if you are interested in learning more about the wines you are drinking.  The "bartenders" are eager to assist you and are very knowledgeable about the wines, so if you have questions or want a recommendation don't be afraid to ask! There are also a few different bottled beers to choose from, as well as tea, soda, etc, if you are not a big wine fan.

Wine on tap!  Photo accredited to Cafe Caturra's (Midlothian) Facebook page.

As for the food ordering, they have their menu on a large, professionally done, chalkboard that is clear and easy to read while you are in line, and they also have paper menus you can take back to your table to peruse at your leisure before ordering. Wait ... a legible chalkboard AND paper menus?! Genius! This place is heaven!

Once you have decided, go ahead and give your order to the cashier, and you can either pay at that time or start a tab. You will be handed your receipt and a number to take back with you, and in a few minutes your food/drinks will be brought to your table. Waiters will also periodically ask you if you need more wine or refills, but feel free to go back to the bar and order more when you are ready. Pretty classy, eh?

Ok, on to the food ... finally ;). The menu consists of upscale small plates (such as a cheese plate, caprese crostini, and crab cakes), sandwiches, soups and salads, and desserts. Sandwiches come in full or half sizes and you can get either chips, garden salad, or raspberry walnut salad as your side. I have tried several of the sandwiches and soups and they have all been delicious. The sandwiches are very hearty and filling, no skimping on size here, and the side salads are plentiful as well. I have never walked away from this place hungry.

Caprese crostini ... Photo accredited to Cafe Caturra's website.

I always get the crispy cheese panini with the raspberry walnut salad. It is the best grilled cheese you will ever have!!! Mounds of cheddar spilling out beneath perfectly grilled sourdough bread, with a juicy tomato in between (my idea of perfection!). And the salad is a perfect combination to the sharpness of the sandwich, with sweet romaine, Gorgonzola, walnuts, dried cranberries, and amazing raspberry walnut vinaigrette. I literally crave this meal.  My mom, on the other hand, always gets the Tuscan panini, which consists of chicken, mozzarella, tomatoes, and bacon, which she swears by. We really should branch out and try more of the menu, but we just love our sandwiches and salads too much! (Note: If you get a sandwich, PLEASE try the raspberry walnut salad. I swear it is divine!)

Crispy cheese panini and raspberry walnut Salad ... you will crave it too!
Photo accredited to Foodalicious Follies Blog.

Cafe Caturrra also has specials throughout the week, as well as occasional live entertainment, and a killer happy hour on wine and appetizers if you can make it there before 6pm.

The only issue I have with this place is that it can be a little expensive for a cafe, especially if you order wine. Most of the sandwiches are around $10, but like I said, you get a good amount of food and great quality for your money. But don't go in expecting to eat for cheap.

Instead, go in expecting to have a great experience, delicious food, and to probably find your new favorite casual dining spot ... because this place is much more than your average cafe.

Make it in for the great happy hour and enjoy some awesome wine!
Photo accredited to Cafe Caturra's (Midlothian) Facebook page.

Check out the Cafe Caturra website at:

Be real.

Cafe Caturra on Urbanspoon