Cuban Paladar Dinner

Food & Drink
April 23, 2010 8:33 am

A common question I get since returning from Cuba is, “How was the food?!”

You know, I say, Cuba isn’t really revered for its food. Menus are heavy on rice, beans and meat, and dishes aren’t too adventurous flavor-wise. The food was fine, though, and most of the time solidly good, especially at restaurants like Bodeguita del Medio and El Aljibe. That is, except for one of the most deliciously unreal meals of my life.

Cocina de Lilliam is perhaps the most famous paladar in Cuba. A paladar is a small, privately-owned, family-run (and operated from the family’s home) restaurant. After the fall of the USSR and drop-off of Soviet subsidies, Fidel enacted a law that allowed small, privately-owned restaurants (paladares) to exist. Tourism money talks, even in a Communist country.

Lilliam Dominguez runs the paladar out of her sprawling Miramar home (the Havana neighborhood with old mansions from the days of Batista), and all of the tables sit on a picturesque outdoor patio surrounded by lush plants. After hearing our guide rave about Lilliam’s cooking, a group of about 12 of us knew we needed to go. Because of the size of our group, Lilliam offered us a special meal: for a flat group price, she would bring us out dish after dish of her choice; no menu, no options. Since some of the best meals I’ve had have resulted from just letting chefs go at it and plates come, I was salivating even before sitting down.

Below is a photo gallery of some shots from our epic, hours-long meal, where moist, garlicky homemade breads and sauces, crispy fried tarragon and a sweet stew with lamb so tender it broke apart at the touch of a fork preceded plates of lightly citrus grilled tilapia, mashed sweet potato and cheesy chicken-peach crepes. (Plus what seemed like hundreds more dishes.) If you think I’m a little short on photos, I apologize. I was a little preoccupied savoring an unparalleled meal. Buen provecho!

The kitchen (or actual "cocina") of Cocina de LilliamDining areaMarisa, Liza and me with the pre-appetizerChicken, cheese and peaches, all in a crêpeThe table, the foodSlightly sunburned, loving the mealGrilled fish with a live fish decoration
The kitchen of Cocina de Lilliam

The kitchen (or actual "cocina") of Cocina de Lilliam

The kitchen (or actual "cocina") of Cocina de Lilliam

Dining area

Dining area

Dining area

Marisa, Liza and me with the pre-appetizer

Marisa, Liza and me with the pre-appetizer

Marisa, Liza and me with the pre-appetizer

Chicken, cheese and peaches, all in a crêpe

Chicken, cheese and peaches, all in a crêpe

Chicken, cheese and peaches, all in a crêpe

The table, the food

The table, the food

The table, the food

Slightly sunburned, loving the meal

Slightly sunburned, loving the meal

Slightly sunburned, loving the meal

Grilled fish with a live fish decoration

Grilled fish with a live fish decoration

Grilled fish with a live fish decoration

Karina for TKGO

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