Photo by Cathy Pinsky
The Cuban sandwich is perfect for sharing.
Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Packed-in tables make for opportunities to make new friends.
We didn’t do any better with the fried seafood platter—also an enormous portion meant to be shared as an appetizer. The calamari, though thankfully not greasy, were chewy from spending too much time in the fryer; the shrimp also were overcooked. The fish, which we were told was snapper, had the muskiness of day-old catfish. The fried yucca on the plate, however, was perfect.
Not all things fried were over-fried. Coconut shrimp were crisp, golden, and sweet. The inherent shrimp flavor and firm, snappy texture were perfect under a crunchy crust of coconut. The shrimp were lovely without the mango dipping sauce, which shrouded the sea flavor in a cloak of sugar.
Sweet corn fritters came to the table about 10 minutes after the other appetizers because, the waitress told us, “The chef left something out of the last batch, and they fell apart in the fryer.” Hmm…too much information to share with the diners (even if they weren’t reviewers). When the fritters finally arrived, they barely held together and tasted like sweet and somewhat greasy corn zeppole.
But among the missteps were plenty of gems. The deep, earthy black-bean soup is reason enough to return to La Bella Havana. The pernil, cooked until it nearly falls apart on your fork and the meaty flavor is concentrated, is another. (It doesn’t hurt that sweet maduros and well-seasoned black beans and rice accompany it.) The skirt steak is also robustly flavorful, thanks in part to the garlic mojo and onion-and-pepper topping. And then, too, there is the aforementioned, nearly perfect Cubano.
We will not give the enormous paella another chance. We tried it twice, and both times we could still taste the saffron hours after dinner. It is a shame, too, because the seafood was nicely cooked, and we would have liked to have enjoyed the chorizo and vegetables as well. One order could easily feed four people for dinner.
Nevertheless, leave room for dessert. Wet, rich, tres leches cake was sinfully sweet but not cloying, and a milk-chocolate mousse cake disappeared in seconds. And the batata pie, a cross between sweet potato pie and custard, caused a sword-fight of forks reaching across the table.
The food was uneven, for sure, but there were many wonderful, lusty dishes. The service was friendly, though (to put it kindly) under-trained. Still, La Bella Havana has a feel-good vibe that makes the place comfortable, easy, and a bit scintillating.
La Bella Havana â˜…â˜…
35 Main St, Yonkers
(914) 920-9777; labellahavana.com
Hours: Mon to Wed 11:30 am-11 pm, Thurs 11:30 am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11:30 am-4 am, Sun 11:30 am-11 pm
Appetizers: $6-$20; entrées: $12-$25; desserts: $6.95; bar menu: $7-$12
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good