With interest in travel to Cuba increasing, fans of our closest Caribbean neighbor can get a taste of Cuban flavor right here in Orlando. At Cuba Libre, a savory new summer menu from executive chef Jose Gonzalez and chef-partner Guillermo Pernot is inspired by fresh, seasonal ingredients like juicy pineapple and guava that combine with traditional Latin favorites to create sensational dishes that redefine Cuban cuisine.
Upon entry to Cuba Libre's cavernous, two-level dining room, I was immediately transported to old Havana. Dark wood tables and wrought-iron flourishes complement a decorative outdoor, urban streetscape that transforms into a Latin nightclub on weekends. Impeccable service with attention to every detail is standard.
The perfect meal at Cuba Libre always begins with a traditional mojito, hand-crafted with pressed lime and sugar cane, fresh mint, Cuba Libre white rum and a splash of soda. For groups or special occasions, guests can even participate in a quick mojito-making workshop led by the head bartender. New this summer is the Sandito Mojito, which incorporates fresh watermelon instead of lime. The Margajito is a more-than-adequate alternative to the traditional rum-based made famous by Ernest Hemingway.
Like a meal in any Latin country, dining at Cuba Libre is a multi-course, evening-long affair. Meals begin with Marquitas Cubanas, traditional Cuban snacks, which include sweet and savory pineapple guacamole, served with crispy plantain chips. Follow it with jardín salad of watercress, baby spinach, romaine, grape tomato, Kalamata olives and red onions drenched in a red-wine vinaigrette.
Cuba Libre is famous for its empanadas, served with spicy dipping sauce. New this summer is the Del Jardín version of the crispy and savory fried pastry, stuffed full of grilled artichoke hearts, salt-cured tomatoes and feta cheese. Then get the towelettes ready because the guava barbecue ribs slow-cooked St. Louis-style are smothered in guava sauce.
In Cuban tradition, meals are shared experiences, and nothing perfectly captures the sense of communal culinary enjoyment quite like Cuba Libre’s shareable Mar y Tierra mixed grill. Reserved for a minimum of two people, this Cuban take on surf and turf features grilled favorites of the summer season including all-natural black angus skirt steak, Maine lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, St. Louis cut pork ribs, pork loin, Cortez chorizo sausage and marinated squid. Served with jalapeño chimichurri, “Mojito” salsa verde and salsa criolla, the flavor combinations are seemingly endless. Even those with the healthiest of appetites find themselves leaving with a to-go box.
Make sure to save room for dessert. Guests can choose from eight of the pastry chef’s favorite mini desserts presented tableside. Offerings range from shooters of signature tres leches and flan to Cuba Libre’s take on tiramisu and lemon-meringue pie. Pair these sweet treats with café con leche or café Cuba Libre, made with coconut milk, for the perfect end to a plentiful meal.