Monday, March 22, 2010

Making Sense of Mojitos

Mojitos Cuban Restaurant, I just don't understand you.
Monday night, David and I walked, in the rain, towards this small, inhospitable looking restaurant on the corner of 52nd St and Roosevelt. The outside is not particularly inviting, in fact it barely looks open for business, but for the sign announcing happy hour and that they are now serving lunch. Good, but we wanted dinner. With trepidation we entered the restaurant, to be greeted by 80's freestyle music, a woman standing behind the bar, and a man seated on a stool. Our entrance immediately caused some confusion. The woman was about to put some napkins down when I told her that we were here for dinner. She looked somewhat surprised, but led us through the bar to the dining room, which was (much to our surprise) full of tables set with white tablecloths, folded red napkins, and lit candles. It was completely empty. I sat on a banquette and we studied our menus, looking for clues. Entrees ranging from $9-$16. Vivid descriptions made for entertaining reading. Some highlights
Picadillo - Ground meat mixed in a savory simmer of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, and olives
Fricase de Pollo - Hearty chicken stew with a perfect blend of vegetables, tomatoes and herbs
Tropical Salad - Blend of leafy greens bathed in citrus, with fresh oranges and topped with sizzling strips of grilled chicken breast.
And then our favorite
Rabo Encendido- Oxtail stew with a sharp, peppery taste, hence the fiery name.
As we were perusing our not-typical-to-Roosevelt-Avenue menu, I began to notice heads popping up from the kitchen window facing the dining room. First one chef, then another. Staring at us with huge grins on their faces. Were they that excited to have customers, were they curious because we weren't regulars, were we just that strange looking? I will never know. But their reactions, and that of the bartender/waitress did not inspire much confidence. Would the food be any good? Is it fresh? Does anyone ever come here?
David ordered a mojito while I asked the waitress what the specialty of the house was. What do most people get? She mentioned that people like tostones. Well I like tostones too. Tostones Montaditos to be exact, topped with your choice of chicken picadillo or ropa vieja. Ropa vieja! She said that the Rabo Encendido was popular too. We both wanted to sample the sharp, peppery taste. Where are all these people who like tostones and oxtails and how often do they come? Maybe for the live music on the weekends. Maybe every day but today.
Freestyle jams (last song played: Cover Girls, Because of You) quickly changed to Linger by The Cranberries (just cause we're white doesn't mean we love The Cranberries. Except we both kind of do love The Cranberries). The snickering in the kitchen died down once there was work to be done, and we sat back, awaiting our meal.
The Mojito:
David said it wasn't the best he'd ever had. But it disappeared pretty quickly.

Cuban bread, pressed and warm, with butter (margarine?) was brought out to snack on.

Tostones Montaditos
Five large, flattened, crisp plantains, topped with the ropa vieja. Shredded beef, sauteed with red, yellow, and green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and olives. A closer look:
It was tasty, and very filling for an app. The meat was tender and well seasoned, and chunks of olives make anything taste great. $6

Our main dish, brought out with the appetizer, Rabo Encendido.
There was nothing encendido about the rabo. The braised oxtails were tasty, I'll give them that. Stewed with tomatoes, onions, and peppers, the meat was moist and seasoned, but its fiery name did not match its spice level. Spice in Cuba is measured on a different scale, it would seem. The rice and beans, or moros con cristianos were a bit dry and clumpy, but they looked beautiful piled on the plate. $12

A spacious, light dining area, bright red brick walls decorated with classic Havana posters and Cuban flags, the place is not what it seems from the outside. The menu was written with too much care to be a throwaway. The food was well-prepared. Yet the experience was so strange from start to finish. Maybe a rainy Monday night was the problem. But maybe I really wanted Cuban food on a rainy Monday night. There is not much written about Mojitos in Woodside, and what I could find is positive, but now a few years old. Can more people please go there and report back? I remain as confused now as when I first walked through the door.

Mojitos Cuban Cuisine
52-20 Roosevelt Ave


  1. ohhh, I've always wanted to go in here. The place looks like a fortress. I applaud you for going in there. Monday night is usually an off day for restaurants. You'd have to go in there on a Sunday to find out if it gets popping or if the food is just a front for something.

    maybe you had toilet paper hanging off your shoe and that's why they were laughing. did you ever think of that??

  2. Perhaps a weekend food group is in order to investigate further! As for the tp, could be. They only have a women's bathroom. Why? Just one of the many questions left unanswered by my trip to Mojitos.

  3. I'll give it a try as well. I'll let you know what I think and whether end up in the same state of confusion.

  4. oh ive been here before - i LOVED the rabo encendido, but i guess that's because i didnt know much about spice and cuban food?!

    we came in here because we didnt like the menu of that other nice restaurant and it was priced better.

  5. Janet- that would be fun if you went.

    Stella - So glad that you've been there and you liked it. Were there people there and how long ago was it? I liked the rabo encendido too.

  6. eventually other people showed up, but yeah - the service was SLOOOOW. though i loved how this war fortress of a building serves surprisingly good tasting and very well plated food!