On more than one occasion, I’ve been accused of being too harsh toward a restaurant that had just opened. I won’t bother to mention any names, but the fact is that you can still usually tell if there’s something worthwhile about a place even if they’re having a bad night. Such is the case with CasaBlanca Cuban Grill, which I first visited on their opening weekend. The dinner was just a comedy of errors. An entire delivery truck full of supplies had not made it, which severely limited options. Every meal that was served had something wrong with it, from temperature to texture, seasoning to portion size. The difference at CasaBlanca is that they acknowledged their issues, apologized profusely, and bent over backwards to make things right. I resolved then and there that these people cared about their restaurant and their customers, and I decided to give them some time to iron out the kinks before returning to give them another shot.
As so happens with me though, other places and things drew away my attention, and it took much longer to make it back than I had expected. After a lunch takeout order to test the waters, the time seemed right. So, using a daily deal voucher to coerce my mother (she had been on that first visit with me and sworn never to return) into joining me, back we went to give them a serious try.
I don’t know how many times I will visit CasaBlanca when all is said and done, but I’m sure it will always be difficult to forget that their building used to house a Mexican joint called El Gringo that I visited fairly regularly as a teenager (they didn’t card for alcohol orders), and the familiarity of the layout always gives me a slight sense of déjà vu. Our waitress seated us and we ordered pretty much straightaway, since we pretty much already knew what we wanted: Mom would have the Sandwich Cubano that I had raved so much about after my lunch visit. I had been debating between the Ropa Vieja and the Camerones al Ajillo, and let the waitress talk me into the more expensive of the two. We each ordered a Dr. Pepper and decided to split an order of cod fish croquetas as an appetizer.
|Cod Fish Croquetas|
I love seafood, but it seems like the majority of the people I know do not, and as a result I don’t eat it very often. Mom is an exception, and we both liked these little fried rolls. Enough flavor to know that it was fish without actually being “fishy” and a surprisingly fluffy and tender texture were the defining characteristics of the dish, and to be honest I don’t have much to say about the dipping sauce because I liked them better without it.
Is there anything more associated with Cuban cuisine (outside of Cuba) than their namesake sandwich? I don’t even remember where I first heard of these things. I thought it might have been Scarface, but other than the fact that Tony and Manny worked at a roadside shack making them for about 30 seconds at the beginning of the film, the Cuban sandwich is never seen or mentioned. Regardless, if you’re a pork enthusiast like me, this is a no-brainer. It takes the classic combination of ham and Swiss cheese, adds roasted pork, mustard and pickles, tosses it all on a a big hunk of bread and smashes it in a hot press until that bread is wonderfully thin and crispy all over. Mom was won over by it, that’s for sure. And if you think you’ve had a Cuban sandwich at some local bar and grill or The Cheesecake Factory, think again.
|Camerones al Ajillo|
What to say about my meal? If you like scampi, you’ll be on comfortable ground here. The fat comes from olive oil rather than butter, but the white wine and garlic are definitely familiar. They provided a sidecar of the sauce as well, and dipping the fried plantains in it reminded me strongly of something I couldn’t place until several hours later: hummus. The shrimp were big, succulent and perfectly cooked. The rice and beans, while absolutely fine separate, are better mixed together in the Moros y Christianos style.
In the end, the only thing I really have to complain about at this point is their soda fountain. Despite sending back our Dr. Peppers in exchange for other drinks, all their soda tasted slightly watery and flat. Everything else was tip top. If you have any interest, I would recommend checking the place out. The prices are reasonable, they’re now open seven days a week, and Boise can certainly use the variety. As much as I love burgers, Mexican, pho and NY style pizza, we’ve got those fronts pretty well covered, no?
Food: Good quality, varying levels of flavor intensity. Ask if you have questions, they’ll help you along. A
Value: The portions are more traditional here, with as much focus on the sides as the entree, but I don’t recall any menu item costing more than $13. A-
Service: Friendly and helpful, even when things are at their worst. A+
Atmosphere: Quaint and cozy, and it’s nice to hear Spanish-language music without accordion involved. A-
Final Grade: A