If you’re looking for a place that offers something a little different, with unique flavor combinations, tempting cocktails and a view both inside and out, Cubacan in Asbury Park should be on your list.
A few weeks ago my husband and I were in the mood for just such a place when we headed out for a “day date.” He had stumbled across Cubacan a few months earlier and had been dying to try it, so off we went—and we weren’t disappointed.
Cubacan describes itself as combining modern Cuban cuisine and contemporary Latin ambiance, harkening the flavors and feel of both Havana and South Beach. When we walked in, we immediately took a liking to the place. Being midday there was a fair number of diners but it wasn’t packed, so we snagged a table near the boardwalk so we could have a view of the ocean. Inside, the décor was fun to look at as well: black-and-white patterns splashed with warm colors here and there to create a fresh yet lounge—an atmosphere that I’m sure would be even more fun at night.
Although it was daytime, it was a date after all, and with no kids in tow, we went all-out for lunch. The cocktail menu was far too enticing to pass up, so I ordered a glass of garnacha and my dining companion ordered a signature pineapple jalapeño margarita. One sip of that margarita and I was in love. It was slightly sweet, spicy and salty all at once.
After a consultation with our server, we ordered two appetizers to share: both cold, despite the bitter weather. Cubacan has a really
interesting ceviche menu, so it was hard to choose one. In the end we went with the spicy tuna, citrus and watermelon ceviche, which was served with crispy plantains. We also ordered the taquitos, which were stuffed with cold smoked swordfish and covered in a spicy sauce. Both were delicious and fun to eat, having some unexpected flavors, but if I had to pick just one I’d go with the ceviche again: The combination of crunchy plantains, tender fish and sweet and spicy melon sauce was unbelievable.
A short while later our entrees arrived. My husband opted for the Paella Valenciana filled with sausage and all kinds of seafood, and I went for the Branzino on the recommendation of the server. The Branzino of sea bass was packed with flavor from olives and tomatoes, and the fish was very tender. We ordered a side of Tostones with dipping sauce as well. (They were certainly not needed, but we can never pass up when we see them on the menu.) The Tostones were good, but didn’t hold a candle to the other dishes we had.
Being all in at this point, and after sitting and chatting for a good 30 minutes to let our meals digest, we caved and ordered dessert. Our server rattled off several tempting options, but in the end we went with two that sounded too interesting not to try: the banana empanada with sweet corn ice cream, and the chocolate chili pepper pudding with coconut ice cream. The empanada was delicious, as empanadas usually are, and the sweet corn ice cream was one of those things I had to keep dipping my spoon into just to marvel at the flavor. But the pudding—oh, the pudding. Our server wasn’t kidding when he said it was truly over the top. It was rich and full of dark chocolate flavor, but with a spicy kick from the peppers. I’m not usually a pudding person, but I wanted to lick the bowl clean.
We had a great time and left with very full and content bellies. If I had one complaint it would be that our server, though quite knowledgeable, wasn’t as attentive as I’d expect for a restaurant that wasn’t packed. But the food was fantastic and we’re already making plans to go back to experience the evening atmosphere. I’m sure the lounge area by the bar would be a great night out for shared small plates and crafty cocktails with friends. Whether experiencing the beach view by day or the upbeat lounge at night, this is a place to check out.
800 Ocean Ave.
Melissa Baratta has been cooking and exploring the restaurant scene since the age of 12 when she first discovered the Food Network. Originally from Vermont, she is passionate about healthy and sustainable living, and loves to experience new flavors from around the world. She is a pescetarian with a love of fresh seafood, but is married to a full-blown omnivore, so her recipes range from unique salads, homemade pastas and grain dishes to grilled fish and curried chicken. She lives in Ocean County with her husband and young son, and when she’s not working at her Manhattan-based PR agency, she can be found cooking, gardening, and checking out local eateries. Melissa blogs about food and healthy living at SomeSugarAdded.com.