I've never been to Philly during the day. I've not yet spent any real substantial time in Philly- our first introduction came in the form of a stop-over on a drive back from Virginia at like 2 or 3AM. Let's just say-- the irony of rats and drug fiends inside the famous Love Park, where the statue resides, left me scratching my head.
But, last Thursday night, Philly almost reedemed itself. In the name of spontaneity the boo asked me to hop on a bus and meet him there for dinner. I must admit, my natural reaction was to complain about how tired I was after a long day of work. But considering the alternative (Chinese food stop before heading home to watch the stupid box) I chose the adventure instead. I couldn't even complain about how late I would be getting to bed, because I have a habit of squeezing the most time of my nights, mostly because I feel like there's never enough R&R time during the weeknights.
The ride down alone transformed me into the silent watcher. Well, more like watcher, listener and note-taker. The perfect sociologist. Instead of tuning out with headphones, my cell phone, or my current read (Sidney Poitier's Measure of a Man), I took in all the sights, sounds and smells the marvelous Chinatown bus has to offer.
Funny how much our world has to offer us if we just took the time to unplug from the world of digital information. I didn't let the 18-month old squeaking baby boy across from me annoy me, I mean, isn't squeaking your real job at that age anyway?
Seated in front of the mother and baby, sat a tall black man, who had tried his luck at conversation with the young lady who occupied the seat before he sat down. When he realized he wasn't going to get very far, he simply advised her that if his music gets too loud, she should free to ask him to turn it down. She had headphones of her own on, so really, he should have told that to the 4 people in his vicinity, without headphones on. Including me. I then noticed the black woman primping in the seat behind me-- I assumed she was preparing to see someone special, and then started to wonder why I wasn't doing the same as she...
"We were all people from all walks of life, with one thing in common, we all had the City of Brotherly Love on our minds."
I arrived at the Chinatown bus station in Philly, a place equipped with no heat, the dirtiest bathrooms known to woman, and a fully-lit and decorated Christmas tree. My boo is waiting there with a Zipcar, and we made our way to dinner.
We arrived at Alma de Cuba, a fancy-shmancy "Modern Latin cuisine" restaurant in which the chef, the boo shares, beat Bobby Flay in his famous Throwdown show. The decor is beautiful. I feel under-dressed with some plain black work pants, a sweater, and some Diesel's but because this was a spontaneous outing, I'm not too concerned about it. We are seated on the second floor, check out the menu, decide on some chicken (for me) and beef (the boo) combos and wait in anticipation.
Alma de Cuba gets an "A" on presentation, for sure. The first thing that came out was yucca bread, an Ecuadorian favorite for me! They were delicious, not compared to the real deal I had back in Guayaquil, but pretty darn close! Our appetizers, my Black Bean soup and the boo's Sancocho soup were next. My Grandmother would not have approved of my soup, simply because the beans were still intact, and I agree, black bean soup should not look like a side of beans with sour cream on top. You gotta mush those suckas up! The sancocho soup was okay, if you like coconut flavored broth.
For the main course we had the Chicken Combo (marinated grilled breast over "Arroz Imperial") and Vaca Frita or "Fried Cow" (skirt steak with onions, black beans and white rice), the boo also had a side of more rice, "Respado de Arroz con Pato" which basically looked like a batch of leftover rice, mixed with vegetables and duck and toppled with a runny egg on top (needless to say I had none). I would say dinner got 3 stars out of 5. The rice that came with my chicken was very potent with flavor, too much for even a seasoned Afro-Latin woman like me! The boo said the steak was good, something to be had only once in a while, because we all know how long it takes for beef to digest. We were both full well into lunch the next day!
My favorite part of dinner was dessert, a pumpkin dessert, which I had never seen offered anywhere! It had goat cheese, some piece of "sugar glass" sticking out of it, and "Pepita" ice cream. I don't know who the heck Pepita is, but she knows a thing or two about good ice cream...Check this beaut out...
Well, that brings me to the conclusion of this week's Tica Travels. Overall, Alma de Cuba gets 3 1/2 stars from me, for originality, presentation and taste. This place might leave a big hole in your pocket, but for the dessert and yucca bread, I would say it's worth it. There's also a lounge area on the first floor, which means that you don't have to go there and buy dinner at all. Maybe you won't get complimentary yucca bread, but the flavorful Latin soundtrack, projected photos of random Spanish people I couldn't recognize and intimate atmosphere of the place might be what the "Soul of Cuba" is all about.
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