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Tocororo Cafe – Madrid, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Tocororo Cafe in Madrid, New Mexico

The Tocororo Cafe in Madrid, New Mexico

New Mexico is a dichotomous land, a land which welcomes contrast and diversity, where the state-of-the-art trappings of modern society are juxtaposed against ancient cultures with traditions that have gone largely unchanged for centuries. It’s a land in which the sophisticated and the rustic are equally at home.

It’s a land in which the best New Mexican cuisine might just be found in Cuba (that would be El Bruno and the best Cuban food could well be the one served in Madrid’s Tocororo Cafe.

Cuban food in Madrid, you ask. Many people assume (incorrectly) that there are only two restaurants in Madrid–the Mine Shaft Tavern and Maggie’s Main Street Diner, a storefront prop built for the movie “Wild Hogs” and its all-star cast of John Travolta, William H. Macy, Tim Allen, Ray Liotta and Martin Lawrence.

You know what has been said about assuming. In this case, an incorrect assumption means missing out on two fabulous cafes: Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen and the Tocororo Cafe which has been blowing patrons away since it opened in 2006.

The restaurant is named for the tocororo, the national bird of Cuba whose plumage exhibits the colors of the Cuban flag: red, blue and white. Interestingly, the bird cannot live in captivity and as such is an appropriate symbol for thousands of Cuban exiles who fled the country’s repressive communist regime under Fidel Castro.

Casey, the official restaurant dog

Casey, the official restaurant dog

One such exile is Olga Delulogeu, an accomplished artist and owner of the delightful Tocororo Cafe. Olga came to the United States in 1992 with a humanitarian vista. Her work is exhibited in the Aka-Tombo Cuban Art Gallery housed in an old, red rail car gallery connected to her restaurant.

The restaurant’s tabletops and walls are decorated with Olga’s vibrant Caribbean motifs, but to get the full effect, you’ve got to visit the gallery. Her paintings are a mix of scenes from her beloved Cuba and of the desert Southwest where she now lives. Her work also displays, in an innocent and happy way, the intense love she has for animals.

Note: Olga shares gallery space with Kathleen O’Bryan whose remarkable pastels capture the essence of New Mexico, particularly its incomparable skies and other-worldly cloud formations.

The Tocororo Cafe is housed in a ramshackle building left over from Madrid’s halcyon days as a coal mining town. In the 1970s, talented artists and craftspeople converted old company stores and houses into quality galleries, shops and services.

The Cafe is constructed of wood planks, the type of which have made popular frames for paintings and photographs for years. The color of the trim around the door and window shutters is probably closer to Taos blue than to the turquoise shade that defines the scenic Highway 14 alongside which the restaurant is situated. The restaurant is backdropped by tall evergreens.

The Tocororo Combination Platter--Cuban tapas galore!

The Tocororo Combination Platter--Cuban tapas galore!

Madrid is a village with personality (and personalities) to spare. If you’ve ever wondered where the hippies from the 1970s communes throughout Northern New Mexico went, you’re bound to run into some of them here.

If you’re looking for characters, look no further than the Tocororo Cafe’s unofficial host and greeter Casey, a Labrador mix who likes to mingle with guests, particularly after meals have been delivered to their tables.

Weather permitting, the best seats (albeit more utilitarian than comfortable) in the restaurant are just outside the restaurant’s entrance where you can breathe in the high mountain’s salubrious air.

One word of caution–if your blue cheese dressing tastes funny, it could be on account of a mischievous starling perched on an overhead tree branch.

Tocororo’s menu is somewhat abbreviated compared to the menu at some Cuban restaurants. It is sectioned off into sandwiches, tapas, salads, specials (called hot stuff), soups, side orders and desserts.

The Isla de Pinos

The Isla de Pinos

There’s also a section for hot coffee drinks. To Cubans, a cafe is a prominent cultural and social activity and it is said that there is no such thing as unsweetened Cuban coffee. The wait staff will provide sweeteners if you want, but most Cubans take it strong and black.

If your tastes lean more toward iced drinks, the menu includes various granitas (a dessert drink made by freezing a flavored juice and then blending it when it is served), freezes, traditional tropical fruit shakes and malts.

Unlike the coffee, Cuban milkshakes tend to be somewhat sweeter than even their American counterparts. They also tend to be served colder and with more pronounced fruit flavor derivations.

My compadre Rico Martinez, the brilliant comedic genius behind The Rant Pack blog site might never forgive me if I visited a Cuban restaurant and didn’t partake of a Cuban sandwich. Having made it his life’s questto find the ultimate Cuban sandwich, Rico will have to make the trek to the Tocororo Cafe.

He’ll have to make several trips because Tocororo’s menu features seven different Cuban sandwiches, each named for one of the seven Cuban provinces before the Castro regime took over.

The menu features the conventional Cuban sandwich (called La Habana) constructed of sugar cured ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese and dill pickle on a baguette. A vegetarian version of La Habana is also available. The menu also includes a sandwich in which the primary meat ingredient is turkey, one made with Albacore tuna, one with grilled chicken breast and a goat cheese sandwich with no meat ingredient.

The Tocororo Salad

The Tocororo Salad

Then there’s the Isla de Pinos with which we fell in love from bite one. This sandwich is crafted with Spanish chorizo, julienne potatoes, tomato, Swiss cheese and Romaine lettuce on a ciabatta bread canvas.

The amalgam of ingredients is terrific, with the real stand-out being the chorizo–a bit coarse, a bit dry, just a tad spicy–an excellent Spanish chorizo (which is wholly unlike Mexican chorizo). The sandwich is thick and served warm with the melted Swiss cheese blanketing other ingredients.

Portions at Tocororo are easily big enough to share, but the sandwich you might want to keep to yourself.

Instead share some of the restaurant’s tapas or better still, the Tocororo Combination Platter (pictured above right) which includes several different tapas. The platter is brimming with ham and Swiss cheese croquettes, Swiss cheese, Spanish olives with pimento, slices of sugar-cured ham and a Cuban specialty, roast pork.

The pork is roasted with cloves of garlic, but it isn’t overly garlicky and its surprising moistness seems to indicate some marinate (perhaps a citrus), but we were unable to discern its basis. The combination platter is served with a basket of warm, slightly toasted bread.

Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and caramel topping.

Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and caramel topping.

Another candidate for sharing is one of Tocororo’s inventive salads. There are four salads on the menu, none of which are exactly like other salads you’ll find at other restaurants.

The Tocororo Salad, for example, is crafted with Romaine lettuce, apple slices, dry cranberries, crunchy pecans, blue cheese crumbles, roasted turkey and a dressing of vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. The sharpness of the cheese, sweetness of the cranberries, tartness of the apple and freshness of the lettuce coalesce into a complementary array of flavors. Every bite is an experience in taste sensations.

For dessert, if you’re able to manage, a very good option is the apple crisp served three scoops of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with warm caramel. Calorie laden to be sure, but what a delicious way to expand your waistline. It, too, is made for sharing.

Sharing seems to be a common theme in this review, so it’s only fitting that you go with someone you love to Tocororo and share your experiences. It’s a restaurant many people haven’t heard about, but one made to be shared with friends and loved ones.

Tocororo Cafe
2841 NM. 14
Madrid, New Mexico
471-2285

LATEST VISIT: 3 November 2007
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Isla De Pinos, Tocororo Combination Platter, Tocororo Salad, Cuban Coffee

Don Yasmany Cuban Restaurant & Bakery – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé mi vida dejé mi amor.
Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé enterrado mi corazón.
When I left Cuba
I left my life, I left my love
When I left Cuba
I buried my heart.

Don Yasmany Cuban Restaurant & Bakery

In a powerful expression of hope, frustration, nostalgia and introspection, the song Cuando Sali De Cuba reflects the heartfelt anguish and pain felt by every Cuban I’ve ever met who left their beloved Cuban homeland to escape persecution and oppression.

It’s the spirit of Jose Marti, often referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban independence” and renown in literary circles as perhaps the greatest Hispanic poet and writer of all time. Marti posited that “Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life.”

Mother Mary, the patron of the Cuban refugees.

National pride is alive in the heart and soul of all Cuban refugees, some of whom migrated to Albuquerque under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s Catholic Charities Immigration Project. Though many Cubans have acculturated and become enterprising and productive United States citizens, the yen to someday return to a Cuba free of oppression and tyranny remains strong.

The only thing stronger is the desire for liberty. The quest for freedom is embodied by the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Cuban refugees who brave often treacherous waters in attempts to sail to the United States on homemade vessels.

That spirit is captured vividly at Don Yasmany Cuban Restaurant and Bakery. One of the first things you can’t help but see upon entering is a poignant image of Cuban refugees treading dangerous seas under the protection of Mother Mary. It may give you pause to reflect on the tremendous price some people are willing to pay for the freedoms Americans often take for granted.

There is a lot of national pride evident in the full-service Cuban restaurant Jose Hechavarria launched in 2006. A flag depicting El Castillo del Morro with the slogan “Viva Cuba Libre” hangs on one wall while framed Cuban currency decorates another. The placemats on each table feature the inspirational prayer “Footprints in the Sandon one side with the Spanish translation “Huellas en la Arena” on the other.

Pastelitos

A small wall hanging reads “Live Well, Love Much, Laugh Often,” a motto that also reflects the attitude of so many people you would think might not have that much to laugh about. There are few people who love and live life as fully as Cubans.

Cubans also have a passion for good food. Cuban cuisinecombines elements of traditional Spanish cooking with foods indigenous to the Caribbean. It is primarily peasant food in the best and most respectful sense of the word. The aforementioned Jose Marti once wrote “We light the oven so that everyone may bake bread in it. If I survive, I will spend my life at the oven door seeing that no one is denied bread and, so as to give a lesson of charity, especially those who did not bring flour.”

Though Marti meant this as social commentary, the sentiment is reflected by the portion sizes at most Cuban restaurants. No one goes hungry at a Cuban restaurant. That holds true of Don Yasmany.

A roasted pork platter.

Cubans have indeed been baking bread for many generations. It is one of the hallmarks of their cuisine. Cuban bakeries are renown for pastelitos (little pies) which can be filled with sundry ingredients. The masa for Don Yasmany’s breads is shipped from Miami and the baking process is finished here.

The appetizer menu at Don Yasmany features several pasteles, most filled with fruits. The three pictured above are a pastel de carne (meat pie), pastel de guava (guava filled pie) and a pastel de coco (coconut filled pie). Though each pastel is slightly different, two commonalities are also evident. The first is that each pastel is baked with an almost puff-pastry flaky crust. The other is their sheen, perhaps created as a product of an egg white brushing.

Beverages include several Cuban cafes. To Cubans, a cafe is a prominent cultural and social activity and it is said that there is no such thing as unsweetened Cuban coffee.

Fried plantains and Fricase de Puerco.

If your tastes lean more toward milkshakes, the menu includes various batidos, the traditional tropical fruit milkshakes. Choices include guayaba, mango, platana and chocolate. As with the coffee, Cuban milkshakes tend to be somewhat sweeter than even their American counterparts. They also tend to be served colder and with more pronounced fruit flavor derivations.

Roasted pork is considered a Cuban specialty often served during holidays or special celebrations. Every day is special at Don Yasmany because roasted pork is available Monday through Saturday (the restaurant is closed on Sunday).The roasted pork is fork tender with a crispy skin and moist meat inside. This dish is accompanied by a small salad, black rice and black beans and tostones (fried plantains). Plantains are a staple food throughout the Caribbean and are as common in Cuban meals as potatoes are in American meals. When unripe, plantains have a neutral flavor and texture contrasted to their dessert quality sweetness when ripe. Tostones are definitely not sweet.

The Cuban Sandwich!

The fried plantains pictured above are definitely dessert quality sweet. The best fried plantains are actually fried when just overly ripe. That’s when they’re at the prime of sweetness and have addictive properties.

One Saturday special at Don Yasmany is the Fricase de Puerco (pork fricassee) which pork shanks are braised in a light and well seasoned tomato based sauce. The pork is tender and falls off the bone easily. It is also one of the best versions of this dish I’ve had.

Cuban pride is evident throughout Don Yasmany.

Nearly every sandwich restaurant throughout the fruited plain now seems to include a Cuban sandwich in its sandwich repertoire. It stands to reason that the most authentic–and best–Cuban sandwich would be made in Cuban restaurants.

This Cuban sandwich isn’t an overstuffed American imitator; in fact, it’s waifishly thin by American standards. The Cuban bread has that customary golden sheen. Two bread slices encase slices of roast pork, ham, dill pickles and melted cheese with a mayo spread. It is, as it well should be, one of the two or three best Cuban sandwiches in Albuquerque.

The menu at Don Yasmany includes daily specials arranged by day of the week with other entrees, drinks, appetizers and desserts available every day. Every day at Don Yasmany is a special day.

Don Yasmany Cuban Restaurant & Bakery
4801 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fricase de Puerco, Roasted Pork, Cuban Sandwich, Batido Chocolate, Pastel de Guava con Queso, Pastel de Coco