For Miguel A. Castañeda, venturing into the restaurant world came on a whim. But nothing about the concept, look and menu for his ¡Cuba! was left up to chance. Finding an experienced restaur-ant manager was easy: His son, Michael, had been a corporate trainer for P.F. Chang’s and part of the management team at the ChopHouse Restaurant in New Jersey. Chestnut Hill’s cobblestone streets and small boutiques, not unlike those in Miami’s Little Havana, gave Castañeda a boost in the ambiance and décor department. And recipes from his Cuban parents (immigrants who opened a meat shop and small restaurant in the Bronx) and friends (including a former chef from the Marina Hemingway Yacht Club in Havana) also helped to make his flight of fancy a reality.
By the time White Dog Café’s Jake Bukowski signed on as executive chef, Castañeda’s vision was clear. With its distressed walls that double as an art gallery, live Cuban jazz (on Friday evenings) and dishes that lean more toward traditional than modern, the restaurant offers a taste of Cuba in a cozy neighborhood environment. Mojitos are the house elixir (Castañeda is in the process of applying for a liquor license, but it’s BYO for now). The menu’s homey touches include large puffs of homemade bread served with a zesty lime butter, and rustic dishes like smoky black bean soup, tangy ropa vieja (shredded beef with onions and peppers in a savory tomato sauce) and lechon asado (roast pork served with a corn tamale and pickled green beans). More contemporary creations include the summery, spicy watermelon gazpacho and raisin-studded fritas de picadillo, mini Cuban hamburgers served on tostones with an olive-and-caper tapenade.
8609 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill, (215) 967-1477.