The series of events that led up to me visiting Cuba de Ayer makes no sense at all, but here it goes:
It all started Thursday, when I was putting on my boots.
Earlier in the day, I’d foolishly decided to take on the challenge of washing my hair, while fully aware of the fact that I had actual things to do that day.
Like “things”, meaning things that were time sensitive, and involved being seen in public.
By the time I’d finished battling with my hair, I was running 10 minutes behind schedule, and then, my boot wouldn’t zip.
While lying on my back, foot in hand, looking much like I did during my first pitiful attempt at a Wii Fit yoga session, I heard my phone ring.
I grabbed it off the bed, and to my horror, saw an unsaved number with what I recognized as a California area code.
Flash back to earlier this week.
I’d made an appointment for a phone interview with a company based in California.
Apparently, I’d misunderstood the recruiter’s comments about how scheduling using Google Calendar worked, and the appointment I’d thought I’d made for 6pm had actually been made for 1pm (in other words, the same time that I was on the floor, wrestling with a shoe, and preparing to sprint out of the house to my volunteer site).
I answered the phone, explained my mistake, apologized profusely, and then hung up after rescheduling the interview for later in the evening.
Then, instead of finding another pair of shoes to wear, and darting out the door, I did what any Charly would do: I paced the hallway thinking of how I’d probably just ruined my chances at getting this new position.
I thought of what my interviewer was probably saying to the rest of the HR team about me, wondered if I was the first candidate to make such a careless mistake, and wished I’d spent 1/36th of the time I’d spent on my hair on confirming my interview time.
I paced, and paced, and paced some more until I remembered… I had somewhere to be, and by that time, I only had 8 minutes to complete the 25 minute drive.
So, not only had I messed up my interview, but now I wouldn’t get to volunteer either.
Now…I’m not quite sure how what happened next happened. The only possible explanation that comes to mind is that the amount of failure that I’d encountered in the previous 30 minutes hit me hard enough to knock all the sense out of my head because first, I was overcome with regret, which is to be expected.
But just as quickly as the regret washed over me over me, it subsided, and was replaced by another, oddly specific, need: Cuban food.
I’d been meaning to find a nice Cuban spot in MD for the past few months, and just never got around to it. I needed something to take my mind off everything that had just gone down, so I figured that there was no time like the present.
A quick Google search brought up Cuba de Ayer, located 40 minutes away.
I decided to make one last attempt, and with little effort, the boot from hell zipped. I took it as a sign from God, and with that, I was out the door.
Tl;dr: I screwed up my interview time, and decided to go drown my sorrows in rice and beans.
I wasn’t able to find a lot about the restaurant online, but according to their website, Cuba de Ayer (Cuba of Yesterday) is a place where customers can go to feel like “they are eating home cooked meals that would be found in Grandma’s kitchen”.
So, going in, my expectations were high, and my level of skepticism was higher.
I think I was actually the only customer present at the time that I walked in.
I suspect that it was because of the day of the week, and the fact that lunch hour (which I’d been hoping to make) ran from 11:30am to 3:00pm that day, and I’d arrived at around 3:05.
From the outside, I’d describe the restaurant as “cute”, but the inside was beautiful. The color scheme and decor provided for a warm environment, and the walls were adorned with paintings depicting various aspects of Cuban culture.
Unfortunately, I still feel a bit odd walking into restaurants and taking a bunch of pictures, so the only one I have for now is this struggle photo, which does the place little justice.
I was seated right away, and my server was attentive, and helpful.
She introduced herself, took the time to ask whether I’d been to the restaurant before, and offered recommendations on foods to try when I told her it was my first time.
But I’d come in with my mind set on one thing: Pernil.
I ordered the pork with tostones (fried green plantains) and black beans with white rice.
Salsa blared in the background, and over sips of sweet tea, I watched the employees arrange Christmas decorations, and debate where a new painting should be hung.
Then came the good part.
The food arrived quickly… which worried me.
As long as the wait is reasonable, I’ve never been one to be impatient when it comes to getting my food at restaurants. I’ve worked as a waitress, and I know that greeting customers, taking orders, and running food takes time. And I’ve always considered a bit of a wait as being a good indication that I’m not getting microwaved crap.
So when less than 10 minutes went by, and I saw a guy approaching my table with a plate in hand, I was wary.
I thanked him, made sure to say an extra blessing over my food, picked up the first plantain, and reached for the salt and pepper shakers.
To say the first bite was unexpected would be an understatement.
Years of having bland tostones at restaurants had taught me to always be ready to season them to my liking, but these were without fault. Not too salty, not too oily, and just the right amount of crispness!
All of a sudden, I found myself becoming much more enthusiastic about my meal.
The pork was pretty good as well- citrusy, but not overwhelmingly so, and tender.
But the real star for me was the rice and beans.
You wanna talk about food that’ll have you ready to slap somebody? I dare you to try black beans and white rice from Cuba de Ayer.
Most of the time, when I order rice and beans at a restaurant, it ends up being “meh” overall. The beans are seasoned like what they are- a piece of a side dish, and there is usually way too much rice and not enough beans to along. So, I don’t typically get my hopes up in that regard.
But neither was the case at this restaurant. When you go on to Cuba de Ayer’s mobile website, the first picture that comes up in their slideshow is a bowl of their black beans, and I don’t believe it’s by accident or by chance because I am still kicking myself for not getting an extra order to take home with me.
I don’t usually do dessert, but my experience had been so good so far that I figured “why not?”, and ordered the guava-topped cheesecake
I love guava juice, but I’ve never quite been able to get down with the gritty texture that guava as an intact fruit has. But in this case, the grittiness of the guava was offset by the creamy texture of the cheesecake, making for an overall enjoyable experience.
I’ll probably go for the rum cake next time, but if you’re a fan of guava, I recommend giving it a try!
Though the circumstances that led me to visit Cuba de Ayer were less than ideal, I’m so happy that I did it because now I have yet another restaurant to give all my money to. Yay!(?)
So, with that long live Cuba de Ayer, and all its rice and beans!