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Loyal readers and other people who get stuck listening to my frequent rants will know that I was devastated by the loss of the Cuban sandwiches I used to get at Paradiso in the Market Building before the recent renovations sent Juan packing off to sunnier climes, and so it was with a great deal of hope that I walked into this year-old addition to the valley’s pan-American restaurant club.
The dining room was scrupulously clean and a bit austere (a few paintings and decorations proclaiming Cuban origins, but lots of blank white wall space), with a broad, open window facing the street, and it gave the impression of a simple, wholesome, working-class eatery. Cuban Island just has counter service, but the staff is quite friendly and eager to help you figure out what you’re doing.
We started off with appetizers of papas rellenos – a sort of round mashed potato puff with seasoned ground beef in the center, deep-fried to a tasty golden hue – and beef empanadas, another seasoned beef dish, this time in a fold-over pastry, crimped down the side, a lot like a British pasty. Both were hearty and delicious, but it wasn’t until we tucked into our main courses that we really got our socks knocked off. I wasn’t ready to trust someone new with my Cuban sandwich fixation, so we turned to the entrée menu.
Entrees follow a pretty set pattern: a meat dish, served with either white rice or rice and red beans, and with either fried plantain slices or yucca. I’d rather have had the bean ratio be a bit higher in the beans and rice, but the dish was still very good, seasoned with plenty of chili, garlic and cilantro. I liked the yucca even more, creamy and moist with a delicate, fresh flavor that I’ve never had before in that particular vegetable. Full disclosure: My wife didn’t really care for the starchy yucca, but hey, who’s writing this thing, anyway?
I really enjoyed my fried pork entrée, but I liked my wife’s vaca frita much more. A dish made of seasoned and fried beef, shredded and cooked with peppers, I probably stole more of this from her plate than I strictly speaking should have.
We ended things with a little flan and some sweet, rich cake (desserts are homemade, and they have a rotating variety) and a little Cuban espresso, and decided that they’d earned a chance to try to win me over with their Cuban sandwich.
3150 Williamson Rd., 529-7762