Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fear not the albino asparagus

Ten years ago, a supervisor took me to the Havana Cafe in Phoenix, AZ where I ordered a salad containing white asparagus. I'd never really thought about colorless vegetables before, but the asparagus reminded me of the children's book series Bunnicula, where a vampire bunny drains carrots and cucumbers of color and terrifies the household. Anyway, I assume that Havana Cafe is not a lair for blood-sucking pets and yet the asparagus terrified me nonetheless.

So this weekend, when my parents took JFG and me on a return trip to the Havana Cafe, I carefully avoided anything with white asparagus in the dish title. However, we were very pleasantly surprised to learn that Havana Cafe has an extensive gluten-free menu (this is the second Cuban restaurant we've encountered with a gluten-free menu . . . if anyone understands the connection please let me know!) which ranges from salads to paella.

JFG ordered a terrific ceviche, sauteed chorizo and an arroz con pollo with plantains, chicken and chorizo that we had to polish off the next day.

He rounded the whole meal off with "Mango, Mango, Mango" -- mango ice cream, mango sauce and mango itself. It looked like an orange traffic light but he and my dad adored it.

I must warn you -- despite its attempt to define itself as "Phoenix's premier destination for Latin cuisine" (an ambitious claim in a city dominated by thousands of Mexican and South American restaurants) it's a hole-in-the-wall in a Phoenix strip mall with fake trees painted on the walls and a tiny, moody bar in a corner.

But in addition to a great gluten-free menu and excellent empanadas, the Spanish torte and ensaladas are divine and the server was sincere and compassionate.

They serve a Latin gluten-free Thanksgiving -- and you can get it to go if you feel freaked out by the weird plastic sheet over the door. Go. I don't think there's any albino asparagus involved.

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