Exploring Havana today offers up opportunities for surprise after surprise. There seem to be new restaurants or new AirBnb accommodations at every turn of a corner. When a friend suggested I try a new restaurant called Tocamadera, and my trusty Cuban guide had never even heard of it, I thought, well, this may be a dead end. It almost was.
The neighborhood of Miramar has a number of my favorite haunts, but turning down Calle 38, I knew I had never been there before. Halfway down the poorly lit street, I spied two small globe lights on short posts framing a wooden doorway. Since the rest of the street was virtually dark, I figured that must be the place.
I pushed open two swinging wooden doors, like an old-style saloon in a Western movie, and entered a small patio with a few heavy wooden tables—all of them empty. On a tall pole with a single incandescent light, I spied a small sign for Taberna Bohemia, which I had been told was a nickname for the location.
I was about to knock on an interior wooden door when a barrel-chested man with a shaved head came out. I asked, “Is this Tocamadera?”
“Yes. Are you Mr. Mott?” he replied.
My friend had called ahead, and Enrique Sanchez, the chef/owner, was there to greet me. We walked inside to an even smaller space with five or six tables, a chalkboard menu and an incense stick burning in a corner.
I’ll admit. I was deeply skeptical.
Enrique was a partner in a well-known bar/restaurant called Espacios, which I had been to several times. He said he had gotten more and more interested in a concept to produce simple food from daily market offerings. He spent more than a year traveling in France and Spain, cooking in restaurants where he gained access through a network of contacts, and learning more and more about the art of concocting menus based on what could be found fresh that same day.
“I bought one pound of fresh arugula today, and I’ll use it all tonight,” he told me. “What’s left over, if anything, I’ll make pesto from it and use it tomorrow.”
Another friend of mine joined us, and I decided to take a chance. “Enrique, we are in your hands tonight. Bring us what you want,” I said.
He proceeded to bring out an octopus in a Spanish oil with paprika, beef carpaccio with capers, hard bread with truffle oil, Spanish ham with slices of cheese and a fresh arugula salad. We never made it to the main courses, but my only guess is they would have been even better than the appetizers we devoured.
After dinner, my Cuban friend pulled out a six-inch-by-54-ring cigar for me that had been rolled especially for him by a roller he preferred to keep anonymous. From the first puff, I knew I was smoking magic. My friend revealed the blend included a medio tiempo leaf, and the combo of that with a good dollop of regular ligero produced a deep cinnamon, leather and earth profile that lasted down until the knuckle-burning length.
“That’s from Mr. X,” my friend said.
I immediately dubbed it the Mr. X cigar. Another discovery. Another taste revelation, like smoking one of the great cigars from Cuba’s heyday in the early-1990s.
If you are in Havana anytime in the coming months, give Enrique Sanchez at Tocamadera a call. There’s nothing I can recommend, because there will be new menu items every day. Put yourself in his hands, and let him cook for you. You won’t be disappointed, and I have no doubt Tocamadera will become a favorite stop on your Havana sojourns.
As for Mr. X cigars, forget it. That’s my secret and I will never reveal the source.
Calle 38, entre 1ra y 3ra, Miramar.
+53 5 52812144