M: “Hi,” two very tall men emerge from a building that looks bustling, modern. “You were on our plane.” Some casual chit chat lets us know their trip is the same length as ours, they too flew in from New York. We shake hands and exchange names. Nick and Jack had been in the row to our right on our JetBlue flight to Cuba. We noticed them as an unassuming couple resting heads on each other’s shoulders. “If you get a chance, eat here,” Nick says, “It was fantastic.”
His recommendation was not wrong. We walk in after deducing the location from a photo Lizzie snapped the night before, which took a little wandering. “Reservations?” No. We are willing to wait, but instead are immediately shown to a two-top situated between the bar and the balcony. The decor is euro in nature, casual sheek, modern, obviously new for Havana.
The menu looks fantastic. The prices are more on point with New York than Cuba, but still affordable. We spot a negroni on the list with much excitement. “I think I’ll order it with rum,” I say. Because when in a foreign country with a language barrier, why not modify the cocktail list? The request is a little confusing, but the waitress gets it after a few tries and the drinks arrive adorned with a lime twist and wedge, lemon wedge, cherry, and orange peel – practically a fruit salad. It is eccentric and playful. The rum works, the bitter flavors are welcome to our lips than have become sweetened with days of daiquiris.
First course: fried octopus and plantains. Obviously both are delicious, as anything fried. The food quality matches the prices; this is the first really good meal in Cuba. Entrees arrive, grilled lobster with vegetables and, tacos. The lobster tail is fanned out, grill marks in tact. I envy the vegetables on Lizzie’s plate but cannot say no to my favorite food. The tortillas are warm, soft, and crispy on the edges. A sense of ease descends with the quality of food and drink. We find comfort in the familiarity of the dining experience in what has otherwise been a very different culinary excursion in Cuba.
“Can we come back tomorrow night?” The thought is mutual, the answer yes.
E: The dining room is bustling; tonight, they are much busier. “Reservations?” The woman asks.
“No,” we admit.
The host and a server confer among themselves. “There are seats upstairs, at the bar,” one of them offers. Up a flight of stairs, on the rooftop, there’s a patio of tables and an open-air bar. Large groups of European tourists occupy the tables. Cafe lights strung overhead, a warm breeze wafts through. We settle at the bar. Two men beside us smoke cigars continuously. The bartender here is the same man who made our Rum Negronis last night, so we start with another round. He wields a pair of long tweezers in either hand, setting the various garnishes into the drink with precision. The rum’s sweetness mellows Campari’s bitter bite without overpowering.
The Gin & Tonic program is extensive; the list of international liquors, and variety of gins, is the most diverse we come across in all of Havana. The drinks are built into long-stem goblets, elaborately garnished like our Rum Negronis.
A boisterous group of Canadians wait for their table beside us; we’re squished but happy, in the middle of the bar. I order sautéed shrimp in garlic, though it’s hard not to repeat last night’s $15 grilled lobster and vegetables. Everything, again, is delicious. We found, on both occasions, a smiling and motivated staff, a stylish crowd, good drinks and energy–both experiences were worth repeating.
M: Frente is by far our favorite restaurant in Havana. The availability of Campari may or may not have boosted our love for both meals.