The Cuba that hangs on the walls of La Vana Restaurant in Rockville Centre is a land of swaying palms and vintage cars. Women with flowers in their hair shake maracas and men look like Desi Arnaz.
In this realm of dreams, time stands still - in more ways than one. One night, I wait 45 minutes for appetizers. Another evening, dinner stretches into two hours, and you can hear tempers flaring in the kitchen. Still, it's often worth waiting for the cooking of Cuban-born chef Daimara Valdez Greenberg.
MANNA FROM HAVANA
Can't help but love Greenberg's flaky-crusted empanadas, both chicken and beef varieties. I'm also a fan of her papa rellena, fluffy seasoned mashed-potato balls stuffed with ground beef, breaded and fried to a light crunch. Ham and chicken croquetas, finger-shaped cylinders of highly seasoned minced meat, are crisp and seductive. Coins of spicy chorizo sausage are sauteed with onions, garlic and green plantains, to delicious effect.
I'm at a loss to imagine a better Cubano sandwich than Greenberg's roast pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and mustard on a grill-pressed baguette. A media noche (roast pork, ham, Swiss and mustard) on sweet bread, while good, pales alongside.
In the case of the fork tender pernil (marinated slow-roasted pork), every bite is a revelation. Another winner is the crisp-skinned herb-roasted Cuban, chicken whose marinade penetrates every fiber of juicy meat.
A slab of tres leches cake (from an outside bakery) is moist, creamy, hard to stop eating.
BRING ON THE REVOLUTION
Thin Cuban-style steak with caramelized onions has been cooked to near leather. And I have a hard time finding flavor in the boring arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). A broiled marinated Cuban pork chop, recommended by the waitress-hostess-bartender, is good but not great.
MONEY SAVING TIPS
The La Vana appetizer sampler, at $15.95, feeds more than two. And $10.95 buys a Cubano that can be ordered as a main.
La Vana Restaurant is located at 65 N. Village Ave., Rockville Centre, 516-208-3768