As Paladares make culinary progress in the capital city what about the Cuban provinces? We found one private restaurant in Camaguey that just might bring the foodies out of Havana.
The first thing to know about finding paladares outside of Havana that global ambition is replaced by local tradition. Paladares in the provinces seem content to highlight the best of Cuban cuisine and create a unique ambiance in the Socialist Caribbean by highlighting the colonial past.
Restaurant 1800 in the city of Camaguey, the capital of the Camaguey province, serves as a perfect example. The name for the restaurant was inspired by the date of the building’s construction. Its restoration is smart, preserving the Spanish Colonial architecture as it was originally built. The furniture is also period while the bar is the only “modern” addition; a restored hardwood beauty from the 1930’s.
While it might be easy enough to find an old colonial building in any new world city; what makes 1800 unique is that outside the building there are absolutely no trappings of modernity. The paladar faces an 18th century cobblestone plaza and is surrounded by other centuries old constructions. No parking meters, no billboards, no car traffic, no city noise pollution.
Restaurant 1800 uses this setting as a springboard to present its take on some truly well done Cuban cooking.
The cowboy culture and proximity both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea make Camaguey an ideal setting for surf and turf. Lobster, shrimp and various species of fish share the menu with roasted pork loin, lamb in red wine sauce, and stewed beef.
As Havana’s food scene is increasingly reliant on imported ingredients from other countries Restaurant 1800 stands out by its smart use of in-season, local products.
Within Cuba Camaguey is known for its dairy production. Churned butter and homemade cheeses are supplied in generous portions and variety. Thick natural yogurt is served with a sugar bowl so you can decide how sweet (or tart) you will make yours. The homemade ice cream served out of an old sea chest.
All the side dishes, starters, and deserts are served buffet style. Which means you have at your disposal the same diversity of food that you would find at a giant Cuban family reunion.
You select your main dish from the menu, so it is always prepared fresh. I recommend that if you are with a large group just have each person order a different dish and treat it as family style dining. There is more than enough food for two people on each main dish plate anyway.
Also setting Restaurante 1800 apart from Havana is their house cocktail. Rather than the predictable mojito they offer a mix of rum, pineapple juice and banana liquor that is so sweet you should only order one if you have an over-developed Cuban-style taste for sugar.
No matter what you are drinking we recommend stepping outside onto the plaza with beverage in hand and appreciating the uniqueness of being in a city yet still seeing the stars, of shadows cast over 300 year old cobblestone, and the sounds of life as it was lived a long time ago.
Restaurante 1800 is located on La Plaza de San Juan de Dios in Camaguey and serves up a buffet style dinner with fresh to order main dishes every night of the week. Local phone (32) 283-619.
Read more about other Paladares.
Visit Camaguey and try Restaurante 1800 youself on an insightCuba Undiscovered Cuba Tour
Photos and text by Graham Sowa.