Paladars takes you into Havana home cooking

June 15, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"They took all their furniture in their dining room, pushed them to the side, and started making their dining room into a restaurant," said Jose Gonzalez, the owner of Paladar.

As for the food, it's a blend of the expected - hello Cuban sandwiches and ropa vieja - but also a few things with a twist, like that same shredded beef from the ropa, turned into a slider.

"I grew up in the southern part of Cuba - Oriente - over there the congri, for example, is made with red beans; you don't see that anywhere around here or in the States, they're mostly done with black beans," Gonzalez said.

Other sides, like fufu, show up a bit sweeter, rather than starchy.

"Most places in this area they do it with green plantains. We do it with sweet plantains and put a little bit of olive oil," he said.

Plantains are everywhere here: thinly-sliced and fried into mariquitas, plated next to a medianoche sandwich with ham, or a similar two-fisted affair in the form of pulled pork with a few sweet plantains jammed inside. A half pineapple serves as a bowl for a surprisingly tasty pasta and chicken salad embedded with olives, while whole-fried fish and arroz con pollo feature a more tender rice soaked with pan juices. A compact rum bar features the spirit in roughly nine different mojitos, the premium version being made with fresh-pressed sugar cane juice.

Desserts range from the expected to some surprises. Flan with roasted pineapple is solid, but the bread pudding will rotate.

"Typically the Cuban bread pudding is served cold. But again, I'm asking my customers how do they want it?" said Gonzalez.

So even though the menu says 'Cuban' there's a lot more than the typical sandwiches and ropa vieja on the menu at Paladar. From the guava mojitos to the chicken salad with pasta and olives, these family recipes have made their way - all the way - to Chicago.

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