At Havana Cafe, Dessert Can Be an Event All its Own, and Should Be
In Happy Endings, we travel the part of the globe that says "Dallas" in search of great desserts and great places to eat them.
Kellie Reynolds The flan at Cafe Havana.
"Did you save some room for dessert?" A preposterous question, yet one always posed, including by servers who have witnessed with their own two eyes me gorging myself on a portion of lamb or truffled pizza. No. I did not save room for dessert.
And will that stop me from stuffing my face with it? Of course not.
It's a shame, isn't it? Dessert is my favorite part of the meal. It shouldn't be an afterthought. It should be the perfect way to round off an already great experience. Keeping this solemn truth in mind, I armed myself with a brilliant plan on Saturday nights. No longer will I wage the battle of Dessert versus Dinner. The solution is something of a twist on a Louis C.K.-style "bang-bang": Hit up one restaurant for the main course, let it settle (for at least the time it takes to commute), then enjoy dessert at a completely different venue, allowing for a fresh perspective and giving the last note of a great night the respect it deserves.
On a recent Saturday night, it started with Jon Favreau's new movie, Chef. I'd been warned by more than a few friends not to see it on an empty stomach, and sagely heeded their advice, eating dinner beforehand. Great call: The film's mouth-watering scenes range from close-ups of sizzling bacon and the spaghettied seduction of Scarlett Johansson, to a succulent slab of smoked brisket at Franklin's in Austin. But I'll be damned if it wasn't the delicate construction of a grilled cheese sandwich that really did me in.
All hot and bothered by the time the movie ended, I was in the mood for some Cuban food and atmosphere, so my date and I swung by Havana Café for dessert. This little family-run place in Casa Linda had been on my "to-try" list for a long time, ever since learning that pastelitos de guayaba (guava pastries) are advertised on their menu.
With Cuban jazz playing and all 10 or so of the café's tables occupied, the place felt lively but not overcrowded. The casual spot, with its bright aqua interior paint and art deco touches, has echoes of the hot places-to-be-seen lining Miami's Ocean Drive. But being far removed from that famed stretch, or even Dallas' most celebrated streets, the café is more suited to the interests of couples who want to chat over a bite to eat than the young and chic looking for a party atmosphere.
Looking at the couples around us, it appeared no one had B'ed their own B, as I sensed no risk of anyone bursting into a spontaneous salsa dance or anything, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. Props to whoever decided to set the music volume at the perfect level; I could hear the music, but could still carry on a conversation without screaming.
Alas, the much-fantasized-about guava pastries were not to be. I shed a single tear after being informed by the waitress that they were not available (and are only made seasonally). She suggested the flan instead, which sounded pretty boring on the heels of pastelito dreams, but I took her suggestion and added an order of the tres leches cake to boot.
My disappointment quickly faded upon tasting the silky smooth flan, served perfectly chilled and in a small pool of caramelized, liquefied sugar. Not wobbly and mushy like some flans I've tried, but with a good heft. Now that's flan. The dessert's strong vanilla flavor is a perfect complement for probably anything on their coffee menu (which could almost rival La Duni's), but on this particular occasion paired nicely with the Marti #209: espresso with a shot of condensed milk. The tres leches was delicious as well; though a little lackluster in presentation, it was spongy and saturated in milky goodness, just as this dish should be. With just a hint of coconut essence in the cake and an airy whipped cream topping, the moist, cold cake had me asking, "Pastelitos who?"
I declared my plan a success. On this night, there was no remorseful shoveling of dessert into my mouth after dinner out of obligation. It was so much more pleasurable to give the final course its own spotlight and cool off the end of a warm day with some chilly desserts. I knew it wasn't just my momma who was right about me being a genius. This idea is currently patent-pending, so feel free to give it a try; you won't be sued -- yet. Go to Havana Café, enjoy some satisfying confections, and perhaps allow for your brain to process all of the erotic displays of food you may have borne witness to earlier in the evening.