Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Oyá Cuban Cafe: A Warrior-Spirit Presiding Over The Kitchen

I have had little experience with authentic Cuban cuisine, which is commonly considered to be a mix of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines. So I was intrigued to learn of a new Cuban restaurant, the Oya Cuban Cafe, which recently came to Malden. It has only been open for a few months and I have dined there for lunch a couple times. Based on my experiences so far, it is a restaurant worth checking out.

The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife team. Roberto and Maybi Niubo. Roberto, who was born and raised in Cuba, is the chef and began his culinary education in Cuba. He continued his education in Massachusetts, at the Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge. The name of the restaurant, Oyá, derives from a goddess in the Yoruba religion. Oyá is a warrior-spirit of the wind, lightning, fertility, fire, and magic. It is she who looks over the restaurant.

The restaurants is simply decorated and seats about 38 people plus 6 at the small bar. It has a bit of a homey ambiance with a partially open kitchen. They recently obtained a license to sell wine and beer and their current wine list is small, about 14 wines, but the selections are actually interesting and relatively inexpensive. You'll find a Fino Sherry, a LBV Port, Cava, and other wines from Spain, Portugal, Argentina and elsewhere. Most of the bottles are priced under $30, with their highest wine at $36. Pretty good for a small restaurant.

Their food is intended to be authentic, and nearly everything is made in house. That is certainly a good selling point. The Lunch menu is broken into Appetizers ($6-$12, Soups ($5), Salads ($3-$6), Sandwiches ($7-$10) and Entrees ($13-$15). The Dinner menu has additional choices, and prices are a bit higher for those items, with entrees up to $24 (a Filet Mignon). And yes, you will find a traditional Cuban sandwich on the Lunch menu, as well as sliders for Dinner.

In the Appetizers, the Croquetas de Pollo ($7) are chicken croquettes served with a rustic Cuban sofrito sauce. The crunchy exterior hides the soft mashed potatoes and chicken within. They are filling and the sofrito is nicely spiced, with lots of flavor.

Another Appetizer is the Empanadas de Carne ($8), Beef Empanadas which are also served with a rustic Cuban sofrito. These were impressive, with a crisp, fresh tasting empanada containing a hot, juicy sauce with tender ground beef, olives and spices. I could have made a meal of these empanadas alone and they get my strongest recommendation.

Under the Sandwiches, I ordered the Medianoche Oyá ($8), a "midnight" sandwich with BBQ slow roasted pork, chorizo, and melted Swiss Cheese on soft bread. It is called a "midnight" sandwich because it is popular in Cuban nightclubs around midnight. This is an ample sandwich, filled with plenty of flavorful meat and cheese. I should note that there are onions on the sandwich, within the roasted pork, though the onions are not listed as an ingredient. The bread was fresh and soft, pairing well with the stuffings and the addition of the chorizo was great. Next time, I need to try their Cuban.

In the Entrees, I opted for the Arroz a la Cubana ($13), a plate of Cuban style ground beef, white rice and a fried egg with a side of Sweets Fried Plantains. The plentiful ground beef is within a compelling and tasty sauce which has olives, onions and what seem to be tiny grapes. It is a hearty dish, perfect for a rainy or cold day. The plantains though were a bit dry and not very exciting.

The Dessert menu has four choices, priced $5-$6, and includes Rice Pudding and Caramel Flan. My choice though was the Pudín de Pan con Dulce de Leche y Helado ($6), a warm Bread Pudding with ice cream, and it was stellar. A great consistency and taste to the bread pudding, and the caramel sauce was enticing. The ice cream enhanced the dish and I would come to the restaurant just for this dessert. Highly recommended.

Overall, the restaurant is making some excellent dishes, and a couple items which are more ordinary, though not unappealing. I still would like to try more items on the menu, especially on the dinner menu. Portion sizes are good and prices are very reasonable. Service is excellent, friendly and attentive. There is much reason to check out Oyá Cuban Cafe and get a taste of Cuba.

Oya Cuban Cafe on Urbanspoon

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