Remember nominations for Hartford Courant’s CT blog awards, the Websters, close this Wednesday 3/21!
Until I have time to blog about my visit with the amazing Heather of For the Love of Kale, check out her two posts on our endeavors :) Today I bring you a fantastic restaurant review!
I have written about Zafra before, because I visited and discovered the restaurant while on a Taste of New Haven tour of the Canal Quarter area of New Haven, CT. This place is the first rum bar in Connecticut and also the largest rum bar in the United States, with choice of over 125 different rums!
Cocktails on the left, rums on the right, and the rum menu has a back too!
During my inaugural visit I was blown away by the hospitality of the staff, especially Ed Zynko, the bar manager. Last Saturday I took another trip to Zafra, and was treated just as well, if not better. Ed even reserved spots at the bar for my friends and I to ensure that he would be taking care of us and showing us a good time.
We certainly felt special!
I ordered us a round of Ed’s famous mojitos immediately – one cannot visit Zafra without trying a 10 Cane Mojito, honestly the best I have ever had.
Ain’t it pretty?
My companions for the evening were Joe and his brother, Chris, who I recently discovered is a fellow food, drink, and restaurant fanatic!
Joe and his mojito.
Me and Chris!
We perused the appetizers and decided to order a couple to share – the Cuban Dumplings and the Coconut Ceviche for 2.
When the menu said “beautifully arranged”, it was NOT kidding!
The Cuban Dumplings – inside of a coconut!
The dumplings were so yummy, especially with the inclusion of PICKLES, and the dipping sauce was tasty too. What a pretty arrangement!! These went VERY quickly between the three of us.
AAHHH! Look at that!
Yes, THAT is the Coconut Ceviche for 2. Oh goodness! You can’t tell from the photo, but it was even lit up from inside with a red light! The orange sauce on the wooden spoon was a chipotle sauce that was to DIE for, we had to ask for some more because Joe demolished it (he’s a condiment king). The seafood was amazing, just look at those HUGE shrimp, and the avocado paired with them was a nice touch. On the lower right you’ll see tostones, or green plantains, tucked into the white napkin. They were absolutely wonderful dipped in the chipotle sauce. I could have eaten a million more!
Chris was a big fan.
Time for another round of drinks – I learned about Ed’s famous and award-winning Caribbean Dream, made with egg whites, on the Taste of New Haven visit. It’s been called “vacation in a glass”, and though it is too sweet for my martini-loving taste buds, I knew Joe would be ALL about it.
He gets to work – this drink takes awhile to make.
Ed crafts a masterpiece.
The finished product, and a happy customer.
Just like I thought – Joe LOVED it! I did steal a sip or two and so did Chris, but his next drink was of the more dangerous variety.
Delicious, but indeed dangerous, the Jamaican Motherfucker (yup, that’s the name) has a bite to it that indicates that it’s one powerful beverage. Ed declared it to be the strongest drink on the menu. I helped Chris finish some of this. After all, didn’t want to leave him to handle it alone, right?
Ed and his partner in crime working on drinks.
Doesn’t that sugar-rimmed martini look mighty tasty?
Ed prepares a Captain Jack Sparrow – notice the concentration.
Captain Jack (Pyrat Rum XO Reserve, pineapple, passion fruit, and lime juices, and blue curacao) is ready to be consumed, and Ed makes like a blur to go make the next drink.
Joe headed out for the evening, and Chris and I decided to order two entrees to share so that we could try as many things as possible. We did a bit of surf and a bit of turf. First up, the Lechon Asado: slow-roasted pork (marinated 24 hours), sauteed onions, white rice, black beans, a broiled yucca.
The pork was beyond excellent, Chris and I could not stop raving about it. The 24-hour marinading DEFINITELY makes a difference. I also adored the yucca. It was my first time having it! The black beans were very good (I’m a fanatic when it comes to those). I left the rice alone because I’m just not a rice person – so boring compared to the many other interesting, flavorful eats!
As for the surf, we went with Jumbo Diver Scallops: pan-seared scallops, black beans, and maduros (sweet plantains).
Again, I left the rice alone and the beans were yummy. The scallops were cooked very well, but I got a few crunchy bites – Chris guessed it was leftover sand? I’ve heard that it’s very difficult to get scallops completely cleaned of it. Not sure, but they were still nice and juicy and seasoned very well! I was all OVER the sweet plantains, I just love them.
If you’re a vegetarian and wish to visit Zafra, you’re in luck – there are plenty of options on the menu that you can still enjoy! Just check out the Latin Caprese below, made with fresh mozz, roasted red peppers, tomato, cilantro oil, and balsamic vinegar:
Zafra regular Colin, owner of Taste of New Haven, was kind enough to let me snap this photo of his meal.
Ed insisted that Chris and I try one of his favorite drinks to make, an espresso martini, AKA a java chip frap with alcohol! Well, we had to have dessert in some form, right?
He started by lining a martini glass with chocolate syrup – I already liked where this was going.
I could hardly wait to take the first sip!
Chris and I LOVED this. Four thumbs up total! Unfortunately we could not finish it because a) we were full and b) we both had to drive over 45 minutes to get to our respective homes.
We had an amazing time at Zafra and I couldn’t be happier about my new-found love for New Haven and its restaurant scene. Just goes to show you that you need to experience something before you can judge it – no longer do I think of this city as “shoot-em-up New Haven”. No, now I see it for the diverse, exciting hotspot that it is, with tons to offer in terms of food, drinks, sights, and history!
Thank you Ed, and all of Zafra’s staff, for a fun and delicious night!
Have you ever been to a rum bar or tried Cuban food and/or drinks?
Have you ever realized that you were judging something without experiencing it first? Once you experienced it, what was your take? Did your opinion change?