At La Guarida restaurant (Concordia No. 418, between Gervasio and Escobar) people can enjoy one of the most delicious desserts in Havana: lemon pie with almonds. In fact, people can taste many other desserts, all of then certainly exquisite. Yet, this journalist ordered the pie and the truth is there are no words to describe it. It is simply delicious.
Obviously a gastronomic chronicle does not begin with dessert. Let´s start over, let´s talk about the restaurant, though the most important newspapers in the world, the most exclusive gourmet food guides, have published references, reviews, comments, reports on this restaurant. “It is the most famous restaurant in Havana” –said The New York Times, for instance. “Le Paladar des stars, la star des paladares” —Air France Magazine published.
La Guarida is different since the very first moment. The aesthetic adventure begins as we walk in through this mansion from the beginning of the last century, which has become the home for multiple families. It is a beautiful construction, despite the passing of time and circumstances. Its walls now need painting, up the stairs we can see the small apartments (everyone keeps on with what they are doing), visitors can observe what’s left from its time of glory. The stairs wave and we find a big hall where women hang out recently washed clothes; we keep going up till the last floor, which is now almost fully occupied by the restaurant…
There we may find Enrique and Odeysis, the owners, who usually receive clients with a phrase said by Diego to David in the movie Fresa y Chocolate: “Welcome to La Guarida”. We hadn’t mentioned it before but anyway many people already know that: this is the main location in the film Fresa y Chcolate shot by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea y Juan Carlos Tabío. A considerable number of tables are set in the rooms where Diego, Nancy and David moved around… There are still some reminders of that: Rocco, the fridge, lies in a corner; German’s singular sculptures are on top of a closet. For cinema buffs, for people knowledgeable on the Cuban cinema, for any Cuban, this might be in fact a special experience. However, La Guarida is also visited by many people that have never heard of the movie. The attractions of the place go beyond that referent.
As we seat on the table, dinner sets and cutlery calls our attention; these are unique pieces, most coming from collections by Cuban families from the first half of the past century. It doesn’t matter the variety of designs, the lack of uniformity: everything is perfectly combined in the general decoration.
The restaurant is at the same time a well supplied gallery of contemporary Cuban art. The lighting is intimate, faint and cozy. Every table is lightened by a candle; spiders in the roof fulfill the environment. Almost always there is Cuban music, favoring conversation and relaxation. Even though it is a deluxe restaurant, there is no formalism or elitist protocol.
Once we have the menu in our hands, we realize that every proposal has “personality”, made from recipes with high demand. Dishes are elegantly presented with harmony in terms of colors and textures. We eat the exact amount needed: they don’t serve huge amounts like in overwhelming restaurants where you can take home food or the little rations served in other places with chic pretensions.
As starter, this journalist ordered (besides recently baked bread) peppers stuffed with tuna. Tuna and peppers are perfectly known to our taste, but in this case they are dressed with a delicate sauce, slightly seasoned. As main course (accompanied by a season salad), one of the specialties of the house: Caimanero stonebass. The meat is tender and juicy, but without excess. We get the feeling we are enjoying an essential “perfumed” flavor and blended in perfect balance by the taste of other ingredients.
That’s gourmet cooking undoubtedly. For dessert, as we had already advanced at the beginning of this chronicle: the indescribable lemon pie.
This is just one way. If it is true (and it must be) that common saying that those who take the biggest risks when eating are those that enjoy it the most, this menu is definitely an invitation to take risks. Of course, it is a sure thing that every dish served is excellent.
A dinner at La Guarida is a unique experience in this unique city. And this is not an empty phrase. Prices are in perfect balance with quality, but are honestly not prohibitive taking into account the current trends. And Cuban clients, by special deference by the house, can have some discounts.
The restaurant welcomes guests warmly and gracefully. It doesn’t pretend to be a bubble in the midst of a loud city: it is part of the city and it is adjusted to the city. Hardly ever the undeniable distinction of a deluxe restaurant and the burning and authentic tradition of a live city can go along so well.