Cigar Aficionado

A Trip Uptown

I took a long cab ride up to Washington Heights the other day with Jose Blanco of La Aurora cigars. Blanco, who directs the marketing for La Aurora, the Dominican Republic’s oldest cigar maker, always seems to know what’s going on in the American cigar market. He’s also a lover of good food, so when he suggested a 20-minute drive to get to lunch, I knew it had to be good.

Before heading out, I fired up a special cigar Jose gave me. It was an Aurora’s 100 Años blend rolled in the shape of the company’s Preferido. It was robust, full of mineral and rich wood flavor, with a real kick. It was made for W. Curtis Draper’s 120th Anniversary party, and not part of the sizes normally sold by Aurora. I really enjoyed it, and I think it would have been ever better had I aged it about six months.

Michael Moretti, who manages this web site, joined us for the trip to Hispaniola, a small restaurant on West 181st Street. We were so far north from our office on 28th I thought we had hit Connecticut.

Hispaniola has very good food, described by owner Rolando Lantigua, who goes by the nickname “Junior,” as Dominican fusion. After a mixed plate of appetizers (the spare ribs, which were exceptionally spicy, are an absolute hit) we tucked into the main course: Argentine steak for myself and Moretti, butterfish for señor Blanco. The entrees were tasty, served in bento boxes with taro root fries. There were also impressive tostones, the fried, mashed green plantains I enjoy so much.

Lunch was great, but the real treat about Hispaniola is the new place Junior has opened next door: Fumée, a cigar shop and lounge. It’s a small, well-appointed shop with an accessory counter in front (manned by a pair of very attractive women who were smoking cigars), a barber’s chair in the middle and a walk-in humidor in back. On the mezzanine, right above the humidor, is the member’s lounge.

We sat down in the leather chairs and fired up tiny preferido maduros to finish lunch the proper way. Once upon a time in America, you could do this anywhere, but escapes such as this one have become rare. If you’re ever in that part of Manhattan, and you’re in the mood for Dominican food followed by a fine smoke, stop by.