Havana South: Cuban-American Fused.
Havana South (50 Wharf Street, Portland, Maine) name sounds Cuban, but is far from it. Growing up in Miami, I ate my share of Cuban food; I assure you that Maine lobster was never on the table. Havana South is an American restaurant fused with Latin flare. The menu includes steak, gnocchi, and seafood that is more local than the name suggests.
This is not the first time I’ve been to Havana South, and learned quickly that the evening should begin with their Mojito; so far the best in Portland. Thus far I’ve seen the sweetness level to vary, but the result is always the same: refreshing and soothing calm to a warm summer day. Although an expensive drink at Havana South, I do not see an evening without it.
I started off the dinner with an appetizer of empanadas. I have been craving them, and Jamaican patties, for months and recently had an encounter with ones that left much to be desired. I fell into a tourist trap restaurant in Bar Harbor last weekend, and Havana South offered a chance for redemption. Unfortunately, the empanadas were average and easily forgotten. From my perspective, too doughy and simply bland.
I had to resist not to get their chicken. Seriously, it is difficult to forget once you’ve tasted it. It brought me here tonight. It is roasted, with an supremely crisp skin, gorgeous color, and a crackle when you cut through it. The meat is moist, and most certainly delicious. Served with purple potatoes and greens, it is a dichotomy of simple and complex. Preampted with their meat sampler appetizer, it makes a great meal.
I did fight the urge and ordered the sword fish instead. It was a special this evening and sounded delightful. Havana South’s portions are reasonable, but be prepared to order a meal and not a just a plate. The swordfish was grilled properly, and seasoned lightly. The rice was well cooked but not as exciting as I had hoped. The vegetables suffered from saffron overload. In fact, the whole dish was aggressively seasoned with saffron, which I believe should be used sparingly.
The only thing I regret is the proximity of smokers, about 6 feet from my table. I am also a late eater, and I’ve only seen a few restaurants that need bouncers at the door. The bar opens to all evening traffic, and it can get rowdy.
Overall, Havana South is a descent choice on a warm night; with large doors and ample patio space it feels vibrant. The food is far from aggressively seasoned, which makes it a safe bet for any palate. The bill, and the end of my lonesome night, was steep but manageable. It’s not a weekly destination, or even a monthly, but every now and then Havana South will keep me coming back.