Asia de Cuba
237 Madison Avenue, New York NY 10016; map); 212-726-7755; chinagrillmgt.com
Service: Friendly and professional
Setting: A sleek, modern room, the soundtrack of Latin rhythms adding a tropical flavor
Cost: Three courses, $29
I was a bit worried when my lunch partner canceled our lunch date at Asia de Cuba at the last minute today. And not because I would have to dine alone—that is something I often end up doing when seeking out lunch deals. Rather, I was worried because the premise of the menu at Asia de Cuba is described as a "sharing-style concept". Indeed, the lunch prix fixe menu states that the meal cost $29 per guest, but then makes no concession to the single diner. Two guests get to choose two appetizers (from a list of five) followed by a single entree to share. There are provisions for three and four or more diners noted but none for one.
Fear not, while you will only get a single app choice, you can still go ahead and enjoy the lunch special. In fact, perhaps because the restaurant is geared towards larger parties (the menu mentions that the prix fixe is portioned according to party size) there doesn't seem to be a plating model for one. Thus I received portions that where staggeringly large. And fortunately, quantity did not diminish quality.
Beef dumplings came two ways—fried (really more of an empanada than a traditional dumpling) and served with a tangy plum sauce, or steamed and submerged in an earthy mango ponzu broth. Both dumplings made a compelling case for their respective cooking forms (fried to a perfect crisp, steamed to a pillowy tenderness) and allowed the richness of the beef to come through.
Less successful, by virtue of execution rather than design, was the Cuban BBQ chicken. It came served over a brick of Thai sticky rice with an avocado fruit salsa (read: guacamole) and an aromatic tamarind sauce. The flavors were all nicely balanced—sweetness countered by spice, the vivid flavor of the avocado by the tamarind sauce. And the chicken was ethereally tender, the breast as succulent as the thigh; a mean feat. But unfortunately, the whole dish was rather tepid, and the chicken skin was as tender as the inner flesh—no hint of crispiness to be found.
To close things out, a massive slab of flaky coconut layer cake doused in a warm chocolate sauce and served alongside a generous scoop of creamy coconut ice cream. The dish is appropriately named: coconut invasion.
The minor problem with the chicken aside, the lunch deal at Asia de Cuba offers a good slice of the full experience at a fraction of the cost. I recommend you go with two or more people to properly experience the concept—unless you are really hungry in which case going solo will give you a huge amount of food for relatively little money.