La Bodeguita de Cuba
11810 87 St.
11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. Wed. Thurs.
11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Fri.
6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sat.
11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sun.
Food: 2.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3 of 5 Suns
Service: 3 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two, excluding tips, taxes and beverages: Basic, $30; Loaded, $60
By GRAHAM HICKS
Tasty beginning, excellent ending … and a disaster in between.
La Bodeguita de Cuba is a new mom ‘n’ pop restaurant on Alberta Avenue’s restaurant row, some 20 inexpensive eating spots scattered along 118 Avenue from Wayne Gretzky Drive to 105 Street.
Last week, the Alberta Avenue Business Association coordinated “Dine The Ave”, a promotion similar to the late-winter Downtown Dining Week, where just about all the restaurants on (or just off 118 Avenue) offered $10 to $20 dining specials.
Among the participating restaurants, La Bodeguita de Cuba looked intriguing, something new. There’s not much in the way of Cuban cooking in Edmonton, and La Bodeguita is an archetypal 118 Avenue eatery: Recent arrivals – usually a married couple with an enormous work ethic and kitchen skills — scrape together the money to open a simple restaurant featuring home cooking from their country of origin.
Yordanis Iamoru and Jennifer Perez arrived in Canada from Cuba some three years ago, and opened La Bodeguita in late 2018, in what was formerly the Salvadorian El Rancho, just off 118 Avenue on 87 Street.
For the Dine The Ave special $20 menu, La Bodeguita essentially added a starter soup and a dessert to a pork, chicken or beef entrée.
The chicken soup starter was delicious, though it had to be sent back for further heating. The rich broth was full of savoury flavour, potato chunks gave it body and a chicken thigh in the middle was laden with soup-saturated meat.
The dessert was terrific unto itself, a Tres Leches (three milks) very fresh vanilla cake sweetened and softened with condensed milk and real whipped cream.
The entrees however – fried cubed pork pieces and shrimp sautéed in garlic/wine/olive oil – were a huge letdown.
The pork chunks were dry, tough and overcooked with next to no flavour. The boiled yuca was undercooked and hard, the moro rice (rice coloured with black beans) nondescript.
The generous helping of shrimp fared better but tasted no different from what could be whipped up in a few minutes at home – shrimp from a bag, quickly seared with garlic, olive oil and a splash of white wine. The shrimp came with unadorned white rice, and a few lonely pieces of barely warm, unappealing, fried plantain. We would have preferred the whole fried fish as listed in the menu, but it was not available.
Missing was any sense of presentation: Even a sprig of parsley, or a green veggie would have alleviated the blandness on the plates. And proprietor Yordanis’s ball cap, grungy T-shirt and grey sweatpants didn’t add to the restaurant ambience.
To be fair, the kitchen was slammed that evening. I suspect the husband-wife team did not expect, and weren’t ready, for a Thursday crowd enticed by the Dine The Ave. festival specials. Its 40 seats were near full by 6:30 p.m. and proprietor Yordanis, serving on his own, was run off his feet.
Maybe it was an off-night. Some of the other entrees passing our table looked more attractive than our dry-as-a-bone pork cubes and watery shrimp. Certainly, I’d go back for the soup and dessert.
You want to cheer on and support such hard-working, risk-taking immigrants. But encouragement must be tempered with quality control. There’s just too much competition out there to let sub-standard entrees – dull by Canadian standards, let alone Cuban – out of the Bodeguita kitchen.