May-June 2020 | Food & Drink

A warm embrace

Silver Spring restaurant Cubano’s brings its tasty Cuban food and flair to Bethesda

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Cubano’s in Bethesda serves Cuban cuisine, such as a Spanish tortilla and fried seafood (opposite). The restaurant was open barely six weeks before it had to close to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Photo by Deb Lindsey

José Guzman, a chef who has been at the Silver Spring location since it opened, oversees the Bethesda kitchen and the execution of Adolfo’s grandmother’s Cuban recipes. Because the kitchen is much smaller than the one in Silver Spring, the menu is too, says Adolfo. Still, there is an ample selection of snacks, appetizers, casserole dishes and entrees.

An appetizer of fried, lightly battered calamari and whole, head-on shrimp. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Once you’re seated, order the long, thin, crispy plantain chips, served with roasted garlic oil; they are a suitably salty snack to pair with rum-based cocktails, such as a pina colada with orange overtones or a Tio Wicho sidecar made with orange and lime juices and Captain Morgan.

For appetizers, the Spanish tortilla, a skillet omelet rife with thinly sliced potatoes and draped with roasted red pepper, is a must-order. The texture is souffle-like and the tortilla’s accompanying smoked paprika aioli (garlic mayo) adds a flavor boost. That aioli gets a workout, showing up on two other starters: small, tasty red Spanish piquillo peppers stuffed with blue crabmeat; and fried, lightly battered calamari and whole, head-on shrimp, which are easier to peel than you’d think and garnished with a grilled lemon half for spritzes of acid and char.

Traditional flan with berries. Photo by Deb Lindsey

In addition to the seafood casserole, I’m partial to the sea bass Varadero entree, named after a Cuban beach town. Two skin-on boneless fillets are well seasoned and seared just right so the skin is crispy and the flesh is brown and crusty on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. Its simple sauce of butter, lemon, garlic and capers is all that is needed to complement the fish’s sweetness. Accompaniments are crispy plantain patties (tostones) and sauteed spinach. For heartier fare, suckling pig, slow roasted for 12 hours and then shredded and topped with olive oil, garlic and lime juice, fits the bill. It comes with moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians), a vibrant combination of black beans and rice, and plantains browned in butter.

I’m hesitant to come down hard on restaurants given the current circumstances, but let’s just say that when Cubano’s returns, I’m likely to steer clear of its pasty Serrano ham croquettes and its avocado salad with very little avocado for a very big price tag ($15), but I’d give the braised then deep-fried chunks of pork known as masitas de puerco another shot in the hopes that their overcooking and dryness were anomalies. I will, however, reorder the creamy, silken, caramel-crowned flan, one of the best renditions I’ve had of that classic dessert, and the cheesecake made with Manchego sheep’s milk cheese—it strikes the right balance between sweet and savory.