Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cuban Getaway

If summer is fading as fast as your hopes for getting away for a tropical vacation, get yourself over to Portland's outpost of Cuban vibes, Pambiche. You'll come away with an infusion of paradisical soul, swaying to the sounds of the trés and claves, not to mention a happy belly-full of the comidas and bebidas of this island's cuisine.

The tiny restaurant is usually packed to the gills, and who wants to sit inside on a summer day anyway? So grab a seat at one of the colorful picnic tables on either side of the colonnaded walkway in front of the restaurant and take a gander at the several-page menu. Proud of its native cuisine, you'll have a hard time choosing based on the delicious descriptions. You're pretty safe, though, since I can't say I've had a bad meal here, but have enjoyed several memorable ones.

For lunch the other day, my dining companion and I each ordered a fresh lemonade to sip while we pondered our options. She went with the Ajiaco (pron. ah-hee-AH-coh), a "one-pot meal that comes brimming with a variety of tropical roots and vegetables, corn dumplings and Creole-seasoned pork and beef" (right), a flavorful stew of the aforementioned ingredients that has a slightly fruity undertone and a deep, rich broth.

I decided on the Plato Cubano (left), a dish the menu describes as a "typical Cuban plate. Adobo marinated roast pork, served with your choice of Cuban beans [black or red] and rice." The kind of authentic, simple, well-executed food I absolutely love, the pork was tender and juicy with a salsa verde that added pungency and that south-of-the-border hit. The beans were perfectly spiced with just the right mixture of Creole seasonings, giving it that mysteriously addictive quality that only a great bean dish has.

With a happy hour (from 2 till 6 pm) and late hours and breakfast on the weekends, this is a spot I'd happily go any time of the day or night. And how many places can you say that about?

Details: Pambiche, 2811 NE Glisan St. Phone 503-233-0511.


ABC said...

I could not agree with you more, K. I love Pambiche. My only wish is that more restaurants like it existed closer to me!

Personal favorite: the Cafe Cubano. o finer espresso can be had.

denwanai said...

Havana? Great shot of Pambiche. Loved the meal there and loved catching up. Let me know the next time you "haveta" to check out a lunchspot.

Anonymous said...

Pembiche sounds muy sabroso. Is the 1940s-vintage Ford coupe parked in front part of the decor, like the cars in Havana?

Kathleen Bauer said...

Glad to hear I'm not alone in loving this place (as if the lines waiting for a table aren't testimony enough)!

The photo with the car is from their website...really sets the tone, doesn't it? (And no, it's not there regularly.)

Josh_Capps said...

I agree, Pambiche is fantastic and really does have a perfect Cuban theme with the outdoor seating, colorful paint, Hispanic speaking servers, and semi-cramped indoors (to encourage outdoor seating, I'm sure) but the one thing I'm happy to see that it does not have is the true Cuban flavor of food.

Let me explain that statement.

I spent a few weeks in Cuba last year and the element I was by far the most disappointed about was the food. It was dreadfully lacking any kind of flavor whatsoever. We tried food at restaurants (both fancy and ‘for the people’) and food made fresh by locals, both by street vendors and even in our hosts home. However, every dish had this taste that it was baked in the same kitchen, if that makes any sense. Being that the government owns all cows, food is semi-rationed and only government restaurants can serve beef. Although the people weren’t going hungry, it still had a feeling of rationing. Plus, like I said, the food was lacking in flavor to the n’th degree. One of the craziest facts I discovered is that Cuban people do not like food very spicy. You had to really search out any type of side sauce to add to your dish for spice. In fact, the spiciest item we typically found at a table was pepper and even then, the people frowned up it! “Too hot!!” they would say. Incredible!
So, in summary, live up the myriad of flavors and tastes at Pambiche and if you do go to Cuba, set your culinary expectations a bit lower then what you can get here at our locally represented Cuban restaurant.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Very interesting! Anyone else with Cuban travel experience care to comment? (I've never been there but would love to!)