Photos: Alberto Santamaría García
Just before the end of the picturesque town of Varadero, right on Calle 60, eight years ago brothers Luis Ernesto and René Morales opened an exclusive restaurant on the ground floor of the family home: Varadero 60.
The cozy restaurant’s retro atmosphere doesn’t go unnoticed. Advertisements from the 1950s and early 60s adorn various walls and columns, and spaces exhibit objects, slogans and magazine clippings, a carefully preserved Niagara bicycle, a gasoline dispenser, phrases and names of popular brands of commercial products established in the Cuba of yesteryear, such as Candado soap, Esso Standard Oil, Coca-Cola, and GoodYear, all paired with a well-thought-out musical selection.
The bar is spacious and peaceful, with Cuban and international music from the time period. Large-format photographs of Varadero greet us upon entering, taken in the 1960s. The house cocktail, named Sex 60’s, suggests the nostalgia and warmth of pure pleasure. It contains a mixture of Malibú rum, vodka, pineapple juice, and cranberry or cherry juice, depending on availability.
The wine cellar, with good temperature, humidity and light conditions, exhibits an attractive selection of wines (white, red, rosé, sparkling and sweet), according to availability in the Cuban market, which can satisfy the most demanding tastes. Some are from emblematic regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux (France), Rioja and Ribera del Duero (Spain), Piedmont and Tuscany (Italy), California (United States), Mendoza (Argentina) and the Central Valley (Chile), among others.
Fusion and gourmet cuisine is served with stylized preparations of international and Cuban dishes, with a well-designed menu from chef Roberto Claudio, featuring red meat, seafood and fish cooked over charcoal, a house specialty. The restaurant uses healthy and sustainable practices in line with current gastronomic trends. An open kitchen allows customers to enjoy a sort of live cooking show.
The basket of aromatic homemade white rolls is served with butter. Shrimp ceviche stands out for its balanced combination of citrus and aromatic herbs, and the oysters are very fresh, served in their shells with a good level of spiciness and a seductive saline (marine) flavor. Another entrée, piquillo peppers stuffed with lobster parmentier in American sauce, stands out for its thick juice with a delicate seafood flavor.
As main dishes, we chose the very fresh and juicy grilled fish fillet, to which we added, to taste, dressings placed on the table such as a good olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, peppers, salts and a touch of hot sauce. The skewers of well-cooked mixed meats are served flavored with a very classic Spanish sauce, which shows meticulousness and respect for this classic recipe.
The black rice with shrimp, octopus and squid has a syrupy texture, cooked with the squid’s own ink, white wine, and an exquisite fumet, causing a burst of sensations. These dishes are served with different garnishes according to complexity, type of meat, and seasoning, which reveals a high degree of rigor in the kitchen and dining room service.
From among the desserts we chose crepes stuffed with tropical fruits, which included the traditional flambé by the waiter. The dessert left us a warm aftertaste of the spirits the fruits were soaked in. Flambés are rarely seen in Cuban restaurants, so it was a pleasant surprise.
Of the dishes on the menu, I recommend the Cuban risotto with pieces of pork and a broth base of black beans, covered with Parmesan cheese and garnished with ripe fried plantains —a delight!— and the cold shrimp flan appetizer, with bits of the crustacean, cream, eggs, and chives: interesting!
Varadero 60 and its team have won important Cuban and foreign awards, including: Europe International Quality Trophy, awarded by the Global Trade Leaders’ Club and the Colectivo Líder awarded by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. In August 2019, in San Francisco, the World Confederation of Businesses gave them The Bizz award for the restaurant’s achievements as a company.
However, right now is not its best season, as private businesses in Cuba face immense internal and external challenges: Donald Trump’s policy towards Cuba limits tourism, especially by Americans, which had been growing until recently; and internal policies such as the Cuban government’s across-the-board application of price caps without assessing the specific characteristics of various ventures, thus hindering growth.
In any event, I always return to Varadero 60. I really enjoy its atmosphere, its decoration, its people. They make a difference by providing elegant service and a memorable cuisine. Its owners insist on reminding us that customers are the main reason for their business.
Dining room: 9.4