Thursday, July 7, 2011

Soaking Up the Atmosphere at Habana

2930 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Oh, the memories I have had at Habana. In my twenties, when I lived mere blocks away from this place, I was here maybe three nights a week. My roommates and I were friends with a lot of the employees here. We hung out mostly at the bar, were served stiff drinks, and tried unsuccessfully to pick up on women, (okay maybe I was unsuccessful, while they did have some luck). Anyways, there were some good times had here.

Now as I enter my fourth decade, I find I do not hang out in bars as often, and I tend to focus more on food than drinks. I still do enjoy alcohol, but in much more moderation. Plus, those hangovers now last a lot longer than they used to. Back to my point though, this was going to be one of my first experiences eating dinner here. I have had appetizers here before, but I can not recall eating dinner here, so I was excited to see if the food would match my fond memories.

Habana is located at the Lab Anti-Mall in Costa Mesa. This outdoor alternative mall was opened in 1993 on the remains of a vacant military night goggle factory.  Habana has been at this mall for as long as I can remember. The restaurant, like this shopping center, has a cool vibe to it. Candles all over the place, hip music playing over the speakers, and servers that look like they are right out an indie music magazine. Let's see if all of this hipness translates to the food.

It was my buddy Richard's birthday, and what did the birthday boy want to drink? A Mojito of course. The mojito's at Habana are pretty well known. The cocktail is made of white rum, limes, mint, sugar syrup, and soda water. Richard must have liked this cocktail, because he sucked down five of them while we were here. They did make him more enjoyable to be around though. Kidding big guy!

Before dinner we started with two appetizers. The first of which was the Seasoned-Fried Avocado Slices. This was served with a smoked chipotle dipping sauce. Really, how could fried avocados be bad?  These were very creamy inside to contrast with the crunchy shell. The sauce was very mellow, but these would have been better with some ranch dressing. These really got me in the mood to have the fried food at the fair.

We next went with the Stuffed Pork Croquettas. These were filled with pork and manchengo cheese. The bartender brought us two dinner rolls and suggested we made the croquettas into sliders. The cheese and pork were well done on these, but the sauce lacked a kick.

We were seated outside on the patio for dinner, and were given the bread basket above. The bread was the same as we used to make our sliders. The bread smelled like sweet bread, but the flavor was not as sweet as the aroma given off by bread.

I guess we will start off with the birthday boy's entree first. Richard had the Ropa Vieja, which combined shredded  beef, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic, served with black beans and white rice. Richard considered this dish to be average. He felt the meat was tender, but the dish was over salted. He liked the rice, but felt it was not as good as Chipotle's. It always comes back to Chipotle with this guy. Why am I even friends with him?

Richard's Mom went the seafood route, when she chose the In-House Smoked Halibut. Here the fish is wrapped in corn husk and seasoned with achiote seasoning, then topped with a citrus-papaya shrimp sauce. She loved the smokiness of the halibut, and felt the fruitiness of the sauce complimented the fish nicely. She liked the white rice and black beans that came with this dish as sides.

This colorful dish is the Puerco Primo. The last Cuban restaurant I went to I made the mistake of getting a beef dish. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice, so I went with this pork entree. The pork is slow roasted, and then flash fried to give it a kind of crispness. The pork is served on the bone, which I am generally not a big fan of, but it works here. Good flavor for the meat, and a decent serving size. This was served with bacon braised collard greens, which were as delicious as they sound. A very well balanced plate.

Lastly we have Katie's choice for the evening, the Skirt Steak. Unfortunately she ordered this steak well done, (she has a thing about seeing pink on her steaks). This steak is smoked and then grilled, then topped with chimichurri and red onion. She really liked the sauce on this, but found the steak to be stringy. That is probably due to the way she ordered this, so they get a pass on that. I tried a bite and found the flavor to be good, but I would have liked to have tried this medium rare. This steak was also served with Spanish rice and corn on the cob with cotija cheese. The Spanish rice was much better than the white rice. Really bold flavor with this. The corn on the cob was good, and was not what she expected.

A birthday dinner would not be complete without dessert, and here we have the Banana Fritters. I liked the outer fried skin of this, but the bananas were a little tough to cut through. The fritters were drizzled with a chocolate caramel sauce, which they could have used more of. The ice cream was a really nice compliment to this dessert. A decent dessert dish.

Habana is a very busy restaurant. They really pack the people in. The service on the night we were here was sub par. Glasses were empty a good majority of the night, and the waiter was AWOL for a lot of the meal. The prices at Habana are a little on the high side. Main dishes will run you in the $16 to $24 range. Mojitos are way over priced for the amount you get at $8 each, or $10 for a blueberry or blackberry mojito.

The food at Habana is good, but we were not blown away. The atmosphere here is what really makes this place. The chill vibe, and as the night went on, the strung up lights and candles took effect, and then this restaurant became even hipper. It has the feel of a great date night restaurant spot.

So out of five pirates, (because the city of Havana suffered regular attacks from pirates in the 16th century), five being best to zero being worst, Habana gets 3 pirates.

Amazingly, Habana does not have a web site, but you can find info about them here:

Habana on Urbanspoon

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