Watch out, Dubai. Abu Dhabi is on the brink of giving your Friday institution a run for it’s money. I’ve been going to a lot of Friday brunches lately, and while each of them has something hat-tip-worthy to offer, the Chino Latino brunch at Asia de Cuba offers a new genre of cuisine that is uniquely delicious and unheard of by many.
In a city where Friday brunches are a very, very big deal, restaurants have to have a USP that makes them really stand out. I remember some brunches for their tender grills, some for their delectable desserts, some for their succulent roasts and some for the sheer colossal variety of options on display. The Chino Latino brunch at Asia de Cuba will forever be remembered as “the brunch that introduced me to one of my now favorite cuisines”. Cuban music, Cuban ambiance, Cuban food, cool breeze and super laid-back vibes made this a Friday brunch well-spent.
I am so glad I was invited for a tasting here by one of the nicest PR people in the industry, who I can never decline, otherwise I’m not one to drive out to Abu Dhabi just for a meal and probably never would have tried this place. After today though, I realize I should probably start spending more time exploring Abu Dhabi and all the other attractive secrets it’s doing a good job at keeping. I don’t usually elaborate on every menu item at a brunch or a buffet, but I will in this case because (a) I had a menu on my table allowing me to note down what I was eating; (b) Everything was made to order; (c) I got to try a little bit of everything in a beautifully presented state that didn’t look like a sloppy mess on my plate and (d) our server seemed to love the food just as much as we did and explained every component of every dish in elaborate detail. It makes such a huge difference when a server seems to be genuinely happy, passionate about their job, perceptive and attentive, and that was the case today, so here’s a shout out to Yurii – keep up the great work buddy!
As the name suggests, this restaurant- which is part of the St. Regis hotel in Abu Dhabi- combines Asian and Cuban flavors. This isn’t a new to the world concept though. It all began in 1847, when a mass exodus of Chinese workers to Cuba took place to replace the African slaves. While some Chinese immigrants returned home after the contracts ended, many decided to stay back for good. In fact, the Chinatown in Havana (known as Barrio Chino de La Habana), is one of the largest and oldest Chinatowns in Latin America. Who knew ?! Naturally, a cross pollination began and Chinese ingredients started being integrated into Cuban foods, which gave birth to a new genre of Cuban cuisine. Exhibit A: Shrimp Churros with a Lemongrass Coconut Curry dipping sauce. I rest my case.
The shrimp churros were part of an assortment of fried tapas, served in a bamboo steamer. While these were my favorite item in the basket (and this is coming from a person who hates the actual sweet churros), other tapas included:
- Wagyu Beef Spring Rolls : devoured by my carnivorous husband
- Vegetable Empenadas
- Chicken Chicharrones: I actually hated these. They were way too fatty, as it was an attempt to imitate pork belly and it took a bit of effort not to gag when I bit into these.
- Plantain tostones: These were like fritters. A bit dense, I think the batter could do with some bicarbonate of soda.
- Plantain chips: Uh YAS. I could NOT stop eating these super crispy bites of sheer LOVE with the sweet potato and sesame seed hommus served on the side.
- Pastelitos: these were sweet buttery puff pastry filled with jam and custard
- Ceviche de Pescado: I don’t think I can really talk about this. It makes me want to cry when I think of this Seabass ceviche because I will forever (until I go back again) regret not having at least 3 more servings of this #bestcevicheever.
What I loved was that every item in the basket (except the Pastelitos of course) paired perfectly with the dips and the hommus.
Of the salads, we tried the Roasted Duck Salad, which wasn’t my favorite as I’ve had far better duck salads and prefer my duck salads to taste legit “Asian”. This duck salad was kind of creamy, had far too much cabbage and really didn’t work for me. Yurii was very perceptive, noticed we didn’t swoon over it the way we did over the tapas and ceviche, so he quickly brought us some Icy Hot Shrimp Salad instead. This had watermelon, poached shrimp, napa cabbage, red onions, cucumber, a slightly spicy sauce and a whole lot of sesame seeds. Yum.
Regardless, both the salads (pictured above) were total beauts- just look at them!
But first, let’s take a look at the #bestcevicheever….
Moving on, unlike most brunches which have forgotten the true meaning of brunch, Asia de Cuba is still serving some breakfast items. So if you’re in the mood for some Eggs Benedict, you can get your fix here but with a unique, Cuban twist. The Huevos Benedict will give you the comfort of a poached egg and hollandaise sauce, but instead of a standard English muffin, it will be nestled atop a pao bun that sits in some avocado-poblano sauce. Mic drop.
I also tried some Cuban Style Brioche French Toast with Marscapone cream, which was very nice, and even though it wasn’t my favorite rendition of French Toast, I still enjoyed it a lot.
Meanwhile M tried n assortment of grills, and in his words: “these guys know what they’re doing”. These included Aji Panca Lamb, Guava BBQ Prawns, Sambal BBQ Octopus, and housemade sausages, all with some Chimichurri sauce.
I instead decided to save my appetite for the Plantain Crusted Snapper atop a black bean puree and vegetable medley. I wasn’t a big fan of the black bean puree too much- maybe it could use more seasoning or maybe I’m just being racist.
I really, really, REALLY wanted more ceviche, but I was afraid that if I succumbed to my desires, I wouldn’t have been able to fully enjoy the desserts, so desserts we proceeded to. We tried the Mango Sorbet, which was had the sweet and tart balance perfectly on point and was very refreshing. We also tried the Thai Lemongrass Coconut Flan, which was a bit of a let down as I really didn’t get much of the lemongrass or the coconut flavor in there. And finally, we had the Chocolate Tres Leches. This was a big one. There was a lot of anticipation about this one, especially since the Tres Leches at La Tablita that changed M’s life. Verdict: I liked this chocolatey version better; M held his guns in favor of the one at La Tablita. That said, I don’t think it’s logical to compare chocolate with vanilla, as that boils down to personal preferences.
I still wanted the ceviche after dessert. 😐
Overall, this was an extremely, extremely great Friday brunch, and worth the drive to Abu Dhabi. I’d like to point out a few things here:
1. I’m noticing an increasing trend of “made to order” when it comes to brunches, and I think that’s great. One of the biggest things I hate about buffets is having to get up and go for seconds, and not being able to decide what to have first.
2. The service was exceptionally good here. It wasn’t just your regular manager making the customary visit to the food blogger, but in fact throughout the meal I could see the General Manager and Restaurant Manager making rounds on all the tables, interacting with the guests, offering pashminas to the ones who looked cold, explaining the food, and even personally handing them plates.
3. Restaurants should really invest in training their servers. When a server truly understands the dishes and ingredients, and doesn’t just mechanically memorize them, then he/she does a better job at exciting the customer about the food. Asia de Cuba was an example of exactly this. None of the “oh let me just go check with the chef” nonsense. Our server Yurii knew it all by heart.
Thanks so much for having us Asia de Cuba. Trust me when I say, I cannot wait to come back.