Saturday, July 21, 2012

Havana Club/Bleu Bistro -- Corpus Christi, TX

Today's post is a little bit of a journey, so stay with us. Rob had recently expressed a desire for me to plan a date night. I agreed to, and had been trying to come up with something special -- someplace we hadn't been before, something new and exciting. A good friend of mine suggested that Rob and I try the Havana Club (500 N. Water St., 361-882-5552). "Friday night is Salsa Night," she said. We have never been to the Havana Club, so I looked it up online. I wasn't able to find a website, but I did find several reviews and descriptions that spanned the last few years. One of the descriptions reported that they offered tapas. "Perfect!" I thought. Rob likes latin inspired music, and with a romantic atmosphere and tapas, what could go wrong?

We walked into this eclectic, part rustic, part elegant room carved out of an old bank vault. There was no one at the hostess station to seat us, and it quickly became apparent that this was really a bar, but no worries. Bars sometimes serve food, too. We started toward a booth, but found they were large enough to seat eight people comfortably. We chose a table, and realized that the only staff was a lone bartender, so we moved to the bar. We ordered wine and asked for a menu. The bartender, Cade, informed us that they didn't serve tapas anymore, though they were in the process of bringing them back.

Date night was not shaping up as I had envisioned. We discussed what our options were. Should we just go elsewhere, or go next door to Bleu Bistro? Bleu is the new version of 500 Bistro that I had reviewed in March of last year. During a recent visit to the bar at Bleu Bistro we learned that ownership had changed, but the same chef was preparing what appeared to be mostly the same menu. If you read that review of 500 Bistro, you would know that I was not really excited about having dinner next door. Cade informed us that the previous chef of Bleu recently quit. This is the reason their tapas menu of Cuban inspired foods had been delayed, but there is a new chef at Bleu who is working on it. He offered us the appetizer menu for their sister restaurant, and told us we could take our wine with us if we wanted to move next door to eat. We decided that we would give the new chef a chance. Cade suggested the tenderloin and the lamb.

We finished our wine and walked next door. We decided to sit at the bar because, in most cases, you get to have interaction with staff that you aren't able to have at a table. This bartender was not as personable as Cade. Oh well, he was efficient. We looked at the menu and decided that the prices made our decision a little risky. Yes, there is a new chef, but he's preparing the same dishes as the old chef, and what if the recipes are the problem? There wasn't exactly a huge crowd in the place, so we thought we'd just finish our wine and walk across the street to the sushi bar. As we're working on the wine and noshing on a fancy plate of bar chips, Cade comes up from behind, and sets between us an appetizer plate of two large seared scallops on little pillows of whipped potatoes. He says, "I asked the chef if he'd prepare something for you to try, this is on us." Okay, we were definitely not expecting that! Nor were we expecting the flavors and textures that hit our mouths. The scallops were beautifully prepared, seared and topped with tiny, tender bits of bacon with a citrus sauce drizzled over top. Just a hint of garlic teased our tongues as we savored the perfect texture of the scallops. Yeah, we asked for the menu back.
Oysters on the Half Shell

We ordered oysters on the half shell and the Seared Salmon to share. The six oysters were large and briney. Our bartender had set us up with horseradish, saltines, lemon wedges and Tabasco. I love it when staff anticipates all that a customer will need for a dish. At most places we have to request the horseradish and Tabasco. We dressed up our oysters to our liking and slurped away.

The Seared Salmon arrived sitting atop whipped potatoes and accompanied by haricot verts (fancy french words for green string beans). The salmon was lightly seasoned with a blend of spice and herbs then seared to give it a nice, delicately crisp crust. My first bite was just a flake off of the top and seemed a little salty, but when I sliced through the full thickness of the fish I found the flavors to be in delicious balance. In my previous review of 500 Bistro, I stated that the potatoes tasted as if they could have been made from processed flakes. Well, the potatoes I enjoyed last night were real and they were creamy and they just melted in my mouth. The beans were equally enjoyable. They were dark green in color, cooked well with just enough crunch left in them.

After dinner we happily sauntered back over to the Havana Club, where the night's band was setting up and tuning for later in the evening. There was none of the happy hour crowd left, so we had Cade all to ourselves. We thanked him for the scallops and reported that we had just decided to go elsewhere when he brought them to us, and how that dish had changed our minds. It was at this point that he told us that when the previous chef left he suggested his friend, Chef David Graham, for the position, clarifying why he went to the trouble of having the chef prepare something for us. He told us, too, that Havana Club should be serving tapas (from the same kitchen as Bleu) in about a month. The menus, he said, are at the printers. I can hardly wait to try the plantain dishes he described!

What looked to be a poorly planned date night turned into an evening of pleasant surprises. We are looking forward to returning to the Havana Club to try the new tapas menu, and we happily recommend Bleu Bistro as a great date night destination. Bleu Bistro is a bit pricey, but the food is now worth paying a little more. Thanks, Cristina, for your date night suggestion!

(I wish I had been able to include more pictures, but as you can see from the picture of the oysters,  the lighting didn't lend itself to taking pictures with an iphone.)

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