Pecunia Non Olet – Cafe Laurent & Ivan Justo

21 Dec


nfc capA tale of two paladares in Havana.

I was searching for a new place to host the Portmann dinner in February.

My first idea was to leave it at Ivan Justo as the place is spectacular in every sense, the food, the ambience, the service, the experience. But having a few of our band of brothers along like Hannes, Yannick and Norbert, I decided to try out a few other places.

Starbien came to my mind immediately. We had a few excellent as always meals there but realized upstairs would be too separate and downstairs too tight for 25.

So Yannick comes up with Cafe Laurent which I haven’t tried yet.

There we go and after checking the place I like its intimate penthouse private atmosphere and the huge terrace which would be very suitable for our group dinner.

The day we are there we are advised that a large group of ca. 30 All Inclusive tourists from a bus tour will be there for lunch so we are offered a table inside. Hmm, not really the place for large tourists groups we think.

The next day we are there again for lunch, the terrace is again occupied by a large 45 person All Inclusive group to have their All Inclusive lunch. We can see they are not really the target group for this paladar. All they want is a break from their city tour, slurp their Mojitos, smoke their Fauxhibas and eat whatever they are offered and explained by their tour guide. Just a break from their resort holiday day tour of Havana.

We order our food and it’s a sobering experience. The Tempura is just too much dough, the chicken wings … well, what can do you wrong with chicken wings, the prawns & lobster I have is dry and chewy, the prawns fresh off the freezer, Yannick’s dish, Albondigas is also not what he was dreaming of, the sauce a fail, the meat dry and tasteless. The fish was OK, but we are clearly disgusted at the quality offered.

We decide this is not the place we would like to have a dinner for our group and discuss the problem.

One of our guests is a friend of Lorenzo, the owner who is abroad, he wonders if the owner knows what is going on. I wonder why take such  large groups to a fancy paladar and not to a better suited place like El Aljibe or El Palenque for their lunch break.

In the end we agree it’s a question of Pecunia Non Olet.

Quick money and no hassles for the cook and staff. All nice and easy. No effort. The tourists will not care about the food as they will never come back. Quick buck assured with minimum trouble. Mojitos will take care of the failed culinary experience ( which I guess was not expected in the first place ).

Problem is that after a while you apply the same attitude to your regular guests which become a nuisance as they expect a better standard. Quick way too to ruin your reputation, the cuisine skills and the staff interest.

We explain this to the very friendly staff and they agree but … pecunia non olet.

We are offered rum on the house, but that doesn’t make the lunch experience any better so we politely decline, pay and drive over to Ivan Justo.

The place is empty – could have been full with a couple of Varadero coaches but theirs is a markedly different attitude. They cook for a demanding clientele that expects quality and not mass chow-hall flip-flop coloured wristband all you can drink and eat quality.

We sit upstairs in the terrace and Yaidel, the friendly Maitre d’, takes my reservation, assures us the tables will be ready and offers us Cortaditos and Santiago 11 on the house.

I take the chance to photograph the beautiful and tastefully arranged paladar where I’ve had some of my most memorable dinners.

I look forward to another fantastic eating experience at Ivan Justo once again next February, and maybe attend the opening of his new venture, a bbq only paladar that is in the making.

Well done Ivan !!


3 Responses to “Pecunia Non Olet – Cafe Laurent & Ivan Justo”

  1. Jean 09/01/2015 at 20:27 #

    John Péladeau
    Nino, It is a pleasure reading you, I love your style.

    After reading your ”Raison D’être”, I can certainly appreciate and relate as to where your coming from. But to more ”serious” things…
    Talking of food(restaurants) in Havana.

    Have you been to the San Cristobal Palador? If not, you should try this place, for me, it is the best in Havana.

    They recently won the best restaurant in Cuba and #4 in the whole of the Caribbean, this from a professional panel, not a user blog.
    If you get a chance to try on your next visit please let me know.
    I had not been to Café Laurent, what you wrote is what I had heard and for Ivan’s… 100% behind you, great place for the ”épicurien” like us, this is the reason I am recommending San Cristobal.
    Same class, phenomenal in all aspects from the fellow at the door (Leo, a medical pro.), to the servers, the chef-owner Carlos to an absolute gem of a place.
    I have tasted some rums there that I do believe I will not have a chance to try elsewhere and they also ”give” you a nice habanos at the end of the meal, which I believe is in the style of a VG.
    Pricing is cheaper than Ivan Justo’s… I am still trying to figure why.
    Enough for now, I sound like a salesman.
    To the pleasure of meeting in Habana one of these days I hope. John – Montreal QC

  2. Keith 08/02/2015 at 23:19 #

    Love it as always, Uncle!!!