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James Suckling

When Is It Too Many in La Habana?

Posted: Jan 30, 2009 3:05pm ET
How many cigars are too many in a day in Havana?  My girlfriend asked me not to smoke too many while I was in Cuba. Also, she was worried I might drink too much in the island’s fair capital!

I only smoked three cigars yesterday. Come on. Is that really too many?  I could have smoked all day! I had no rums either. I might even email my mother and tell her my accomplishment.

Perfect lunch: Beans and rice rest with a smoke.


I had a Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No. 4 for lunch. I smoked it while eating the classic Cuban cuisine at El Aljibe restaurant, including roasted chicken with the restaurant’s secret sauce, black beans and rice, boiled yucca, and salad. It was the perfect accompaniment with the cigar. I didn’t even have a beer or a mojito. I was very reasonable for a gringo in La Habana.

Just before dinner I smoked a Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 with some green tea and honey. What is better for you than tea and honey in the afternoon? The cigar was surprisingly mellow, too. It was a friendly smoke, just like getting a nice massage. It has aged wonderfully, delivering lightly roasted nut,  café con leche and delicate earth aromas and flavors. Medium body. Fresh finish. 92 points, unblind. It’s really beautiful now.

Dinner was with some friends at Doctor Café, a small family-run restaurant that has great octopus and fish on the grill. I was joined by Carlos Acosta, the danseur of The Royal Ballet. He is an amazing dancer and a cool young guy. What an accomplishment to be part of The Royal Ballet, which is making an historical visit to Havana for 10 days in July. Carlos is also a keen cigar smoker.

Anyway, I smoked a 1982 Romeo y Julieta Corona after dinner that was sublime. I have smoked it a few times in Italy, but it seemed so much better on a warm winter’s night in Havana on the patio of a small restaurant with friends. I was amazed how rich the aged cigar was with cedar, tobacco and strong tea aromas and flavors with hints of nutmeg and nuts. It was very long and spicy on the palate with white pepper aftertaste. I gave it 94 points, unblind.

It’s so much easier to smoke in Cuba than elsewhere in the world, with exception of other cigar producing countries. It gives such pleasure. Maybe it is the humidity? Cuba is the perfect natural humidor. Cigars always seem to be in good condition and ready to smoke. Moreover, you always feel better and ready to smoke yourself.

I have heard that the year has started very well with visitors to Cuba. Luckily, most don’t smoke cigars! The city seems filled with tour buses in the road and parking lots, and foreigners walking the streets of old Havana. It was almost like Disneyland yesterday walking around Plaza San Francisco. There were so many groups…too many.

But I am not a big fan of tourist buses and what they bring. It reminds me too much of other places that have been ruined by the enclave of aimless people gawking and wasting time. Just look at what Venice has become. It’s not fun being there in the summer, when the thousands of busloads of visitors arrive to look at St. Mark’s Square and buy an ice cream and a tee shirt. It’s a nightmare. I don’t want to think about it.

No place for thousands at El Ajibe restaurant.



I have to wonder what will happen to Havana when the estimated six to nine million Americans come to visit when the United States relaxes travel restrictions. I am not sure the capital could cope with such an influx of visitors.  There are not enough good hotels or restaurants to begin with. Hell. I would never get a table even at a place like El Aljibe, which can seat a few hundred people at the same time for lunch or dinner. (We couldn’t get a seat at Doctor Café last night at first.)

But I am still looking forward to the day when Americans can come to the island. Change is mostly a good thing. Oh, yes. And you are going to love being here.

Comments   4 comment(s)

Andy Klueber — Terre Haute, IN USA —  January 30, 2009 7:02pm ET

James,Speaking of Veince. You should checkout this season of Anthony Bourdain No Reservation. Where Tony visit Veince while hitting any of the tourist spots. It was a great show when you get back from Cuba.


Kim Brown — Edmonton —  January 30, 2009 7:56pm ET

James, where do get the cigars from while you're down there? Do your friends provide them or are you picking them up at the stores?


Carl Diorio January 31, 2009 12:10pm ET

A Cuban acquaintance once commented that she thought El Aljibe had the best black beans on the island. I thought they were good but also thought it interesting that she would have such a specific opinion on what -- to this gringo -- has always seemed a fairly simple side dish.


James Suckling February 2, 2009 8:30am ET

Kim. All of the above. I have some smokes stored in Havana as well.



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