What could be more relaxing than a gently humid, late summer’s night spent in the beautiful and historic backdrop of the American Tobacco Campus? Add in the subtle presence of a ’60s-era Latin soundtrack and things are starting to get therapeutic. As I took in the serene atmosphere of Cuban Revolution’s outside dining section, I found the problem set-induced anxiety from which I had been suffering rapidly mambo away. And then the menu arrived.
A veritable explosion of colors and images, Cuban Revolution’s menu is more than a bit overwhelming. Once the initial shock of visual overload subsides, a whole new confusion sets in while perusing the various political blurbs and listed plate options. A demand to bring home troops from Iraq is juxtaposed with an invitation to try a sizzling, pressed Cuban Sandwich. Another section lists U.S. casualties in various conflicts and then proclaims the policy hypocrisy of a 45-year Cuban embargo. I found if I wanted an empanada and a banana-espresso shake, I’d be ordering the “Bay of Pigs” with a “Havana Blast.” I’m all for camp and kitsch but that doesn’t seem to be the effect Cuban Revolution’s creators were aiming for in the conception of the restaurant or menu. Their mission (this is the Providence, R.I.-based chain’s third location) states a desire to “set the stage for a return to an era when challenging the norm was the norm.” In the end, however, the result is less counter-culture and more inappropriate-theme park.
As for the food, Cuban Revolution does offer a diverse selection of traditional tapas, pressed sandwiches and entrees. The standout dishes were the yuca fries alioli, a flavorful take on the traditional fry basket, and the croquetas (ham croquettes with remoulade). The “world’s best” Cuban sandwich was filling, but left something to be desired in terms of flavor. Unless you’re beyond famished, the best dining strategy at Cuban Revolution is to forgo the heavier entrees and choose a selection of tapas. Also, go for one of the restaurant’s tropical milkshakes, offered in flavors like guava, mango or hazelnut.
The inside of the restaurant feels more like a cocktail bar thanks to dramatic mood lighting, so if weather allows, stick outside for the food and then head inside for pitchers of sangria. All in all, both the food and atmosphere of Cuban Revolution fail to invoke any type of fervor—political, gastronomic or otherwise. If you see me waving a Che Guevara flag and spouting Marxist philosophy on the Plaza, just note: it’s not because of the garlic plantains.