Paladar brings taste of Cuba to Logan Square

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the U.S. continues to thaw relations with Cuba, there is renewed interest in the island nation.

Cubans love their plantains. And black beans, and of course, their beef. But no Cuban dining experience is complete without a bit of rum, and one of the city's best rum selections happens to be located in the back of a very welcoming Cuban restaurant.

In Cuba, most restaurants are really private enterprises, run out of people's homes. They're called "paladars," and they've inspired a Logan Square restaurant by the same name.

"They're homes in Cuba that were converted into restaurants. People took their living rooms and dining rooms and made them into restaurants," said Jose Gonzalez, the owner of Paladar.

The cooking is homey and familiar. Ropa Vieja - literally translated as "old clothes" - is slowly-cooked flank steak that begins with rapid cooking of peppers and onions and steak, but once the tomato sauce is added, the dish simmers slowly for hours until the beef pulls apart easily. Picadillo is another classic: this time ground beef with finely-chopped vegetables and raisins, and like the ropa, it begins with a sofrito of onion, garlic and peppers.

"That's the key to any Cuban recipe basically. If you have a good sofrito, you'll have a good plate," Gonzalez said.

And the key to enjoying your meal might be a sip of rum. Cubans drink it with nearly every meal and here, Gonzalez offers 60 varieties, including some pretty rare bottles. You can have a light rum combined with fresh lime in a daiquiri, or with mint for a standard-issue mojito. But serious sippers can opt for a flight of a few different kinds, if they prefer their spirits neat.

"Some of the best rums right now are from Panama, but we have them from Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican and like I said, we probably have the best selection of rums," Gonzalez said.

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