This weekend was a total washout. There was rain, wind and some more rain. So much rain, in fact, it almost felt tropical, short of my breath smoking up in the cold. But a friend was in town and as our schedules were both limited, this was really the only time we could meet up.
As my friend wanted to go somewhere in the meatpacking district, and we were making reservations pretty last minute, we decided to go to an oldie - Son Cubano. I've been here once before many years ago and had a good experience. I remembered that the food was good and the ambience was fun. I was excited to try it again.
405 W 14th St (between 14 St & 9th Ave)
Unfortunately, I'd say this place is now past its prime. The music was too loud and the food too tired. Most of the appetizers tasted pre-made / reheated. The saving grace is a still charming interior and great service. They also had a selection of fruit-flavored mojitos that tasted pretty good.
Pastelitos De Picadillo - puff pastry filled with cuban spiced ground sirloin beef. This was basically ground meat sandwiched between puff pastry. It looked great but the ground beef was bland and tasted like it had been sitting around for a while.
Cuban Bocaditos de Sandwiche Cubano - bite size cuban sandwich of roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, and pickles. This was again, bland. This supposedly fail-safe sandwich lacked any real flavor. Perhaps it had too much mild cheese and not enough salt balance with the thin slice of ham.
Calamares Fritos - flash fried, paprika dusted calamari served with lime aioli. Again, not impressive. Calamari was freshly-fried and reasonably tender but it was unmemorable.
Crab Tostones Con Cangrejo - plantain cups filled with crabmeat sautéed in garlic sauce. The plantain cups were tough and slightly rubbery. The flavor from the crab filling was mediocre.
Pulpo Encendido - octopus cooked in spicy cuban creole sauce. The octopus was tender but the sauce didn't really taste distinctly of anything...
Paella Valenciana - lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, mussels, chicken, and chorizo cooked with rice and saffron broth. The paella was very soupy. The only plus about this dish was that the seafood used in it was really fresh.
Overall, this place is definitely past its prime. The kitchen is badly in need of some new inspiration. The dining area could also use some volume control with its live music - a great idea but when it's too loud, it becomes unappetizing.
After the rather boring but nonetheless filling dinner, we decided to get the check at Son Cubano, take a tiny break and look for somewhere else to have dessert. As my friend and I have Singapore as our hometown in common, we started talking about Pichet Ong (a New York dessert chef that hails from Southeast Asia). Pichet Ong's first dessert cafe in NYC was P*Ong. Some quick googling revealed that P*Ong had closed and instead, a new dessert cafe was opened, called Spot. Onward we went!
13 St Mark's Place (8th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, basement)
The selection of desserts were interesting and definitely reminiscent of Southeast Asia. Flavors such as lychees, milo, yuzu, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) and coconut are used. A few choices of cold and hot beverages are also offered (including boba tea). An interesting menu option is to select tasting plates to share among a party of 2, 3 and 4 persons. As there were 4 of us, we went with '5 desserts for 4.'
Coconut cream with basil seeds, some type of tart-tasting sorbet and konyaku jelly. This was my favorite.
Poached lychees with a bunch of stuff I can't recall on rice pudding.
White miso semifreddo with olive oil cake. This was salty and sweet. Interesting.
Yuzu-flavored frozen cream with edible 'soil.'
Milo and chocolate roulade with kabocha cream. I thought this was the most ordinary, without much flavor enhancement from the mild kabocha.
All said, Spot is definitely a place to check out. It has some interesting menu choices and is a great place to hang out after dinner. There aren't enough places like this!