Earlier this year, Jose Garces closed Chifa, and reopened it as Rosa Blanca, a Cuban diner. Although I was a fan of Chifa, I know that others thought that the Peruvian-Chinese concept was a bit off the wall. Rosa Blanca will appeal to those who prefer the more traditional Latin flavors and dishes that are characteristic of Garces’ other restaurants throughout the city.
Chester and I were eager to try the new spot, so we snagged a Friday night reservation during Restaurant Week. The place was already packed when we arrived, which made us feel a bit less lame about going out to dinner at 6 p.m.
The decor of the restaurant is quite eclectic. The front of the space has been redecorated in shades of bright pink, aqua, orange and silver, in the style of a 1950s diner. All of the classic accents are there–the lunch counter overlooking the grill, a take-out pastry case and a chalkboard menu. The rest of the restaurant has a more romantic feel, with the lower lighting and the dark wood that I remembered from the Chifa days. The booths on the first floor are large enough to fit groups of 6 to 8 people, but the downstairs dining room, where we were seated, was a bit more intimate. It had its own bar and a half-dozen tables for two.
With extensive menu of Cuban comfort foods, Rosa Blanca is nearly a 24 hour operation, as it opens for breakfast at 8 a.m. and doesn’t close until midnight. I was glad to see that the Restaurant Week menu featured so many of the dishes that are on the regular dinner menu. There is an lengthy beverage list, with more than 70 wines, rums, cocktails and soft drinks. My first mojito in a very long time did not disappoint.
Due to a food runner’s mistake, we actually got extra appetizers with our meal. He dropped off a bowl of guacamole and an empanada that we didn’t order and when we checked with our server and it turned out that the dishes were intended for the table next to us, but he let us keep them anyway. I’ve never met a guacamole that I didn’t like, and Rosa Blanca’s version with smoked pineapple and thin slices of plantain and yucca for dipping was quite unique. The empanada was tasty–you can’t go wrong with ricotta and mozzarella filling–but basic. The wrapper was not at all greasy, but it could have benefited from some seasoning or a dipping sauce of some sort.
The appetizers that we actually ordered arrived next. The creamy coconut and conch chowder, packed full of vegetables and sweet chunks of conch, was the perfect dish for a chilly evening. Chester had the tuna ceviche, which lacked strong acidic flavor that is traditionally associated with that dish. The texture and flavor reminded me more of a tuna tartare, which I happen to love. But, those who would prefer a true ceviche flavor might be disappointed.
Both of our entree selections were excellent. The ropa vieja was made with braised short rib instead of flank steak, which made it incredibly tender. Both the meat and the accompanying beans and rice were perfectly seasoned with a variety of spices, including smoky paprika, garlic and cilantro. Chester chose the masitas de puerco, which featured chunks of tender, fried pork served with cornmeal and sweet sautéed onions. Once again, the seasonings in the dish were well balanced.
Both of the offerings on the menu were fruit based. I preferred the creamy coconut custard with tangy mango sorbet to the pineapple upside down cake, the flavor of which was overpowered by the accompanying guava sauce. On the whole though, both desserts were just so-so. It would have been nice to have something chocolatey to end the meal.
The only drawback to the experience was that the meal went by way too fast–we were in and out in 47 minutes! This is to be expected during Restaurant Week, as kitchens typically prepare some of the dishes in advance, in order to expedite the service and turn over the tables quickly. Still, now that we are only getting out for date nights about once a month, we would have preferred a more leisurely pace.
In spite of this, I am definitely looking forward to another visit to Rosa Blanca in the near future. The breakfast and milkshake menus sound particularly amazing. With the range of items on the menu and the nearly all-day service that the restaurant offers, it would be perfect for a variety of occasions, from a date night to a family-friendly lunch.