Cubanu: A review

I’ve been meaning to check out the latest addition to the downtown, Cubanu, a new restaurant/lounge at the corner of Main and Lewis streets. Some might remember the previous tenants of the corner bar: Eighty Eights and Fat Tuesday’s.

I’m not all that picky when it comes to food (I’m one of those people who was raised to clean this plate), so it would take a real effort to serve up something I didn’t like. Given that my girlfriend Kathleen and I were excited to finally try Cubanu since it opened late last year, I expected that we wouldn’t be disappointed when we paid a visit Friday night. We were far from disappointed.

Two things jumped out at me when we got there. Though the physical layout isn’t much different from the previous bars, the decor was nice; it just fit really well. Loved the entrance way between the dining room and the bar, and later we both admired the colorful wall tile behind the bar. Maybe it was just the tableclothes and silverware, but as soon as I sat down I already had the impression that this was going to be one my best dining experiences in Rahway. Spanish versions of “I Will Survive” and “Hotel California” also just cracked me up; they embodied the whole evening, something different in Rahway.

To start, we went with the Cha-Cha Sampler so we could select three of the tapas chioces. We chose the Maria Rosa, Empanadas and Cubanitos. Kathleen’s favorite was the Maria Rosa, basically two balls of mashed potatos stuffed with meat and deep fried. I loved the Empanadas, perhaps the best I’ve ever had, though admitedly, I haven’t had all that many in my time. All in all, the apps were terrific.

For her entree, Kathleen selected the Paella el Malecon and I had the Pollo Tropicano. When I first viewed Cubanu’s menu on the Web, it was little pricier than I expected. But the portions are pretty healthy and you also get to choose two of about six sides. Though my chicken at first was a touch dry it got better and we both ended up with plenty of leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day. I thought a very unique touch was being presented with the check in a cigar box. It’s definitely different from cookie-cutter casual dining places.

If there was anything I didn’t like about our visit, it was extremely minor, like keeping water glasses full, but the number of staff and their friendliness more than made up for that very minor critique. There weren’t many selections of wine by glass, and we probably would’ve been better off getting a bottle.

The very next night, I happened to meet friends (from Rahway and out of town) for impromptu drinks in Cubanu’s lounge. Our party of about six all had good things to say and were pretty excited about a new choice in downtown nightlife. The lounge was a bit warm and it was actually easier to have a conversation while the live Latin jazz trio played than when they were on break and the music was blaring. All in all, we had very good things to say about our experience in the lounge.

If people want to talk about Rahway being “the next Hoboken” or “the next (fill in the blank),” it needs more destinations, places that give people a reason to come. No one’s coming from out of town to go to The Waiting Room, Flynn’s or The Back Porch; all great neighborhood joints where everybody knows your name, but Cubanu seems like the first place in awhile that could be a destination. At the very least, it’s something different, and that’s what any downtown needs: diverse options.

Have you been to Cubanu? What’d you think? Good, bad, indifferent? If you plan to go, feel free to send comments this way. In the meantime, keep an eye out for a new poll question this week and maybe an update on the traffic projects downtown.