Anything Cuban—music, food, you name it—and I’m there, instantly. Coppelia Diner, a joint venture of famed chefs Pichet Ong and Julian Medina, is a warm casual spot for chowing down on traditional and inventive Cuban and Latin American specialties. And then there are Ong’s fabulous confections to finish off the meal.
I’ve been to Cuba twice and prowled around Little Havana in Miami. In Cuba, with strict rationing, the native cuisine has virtually disappeared except for a handful of “private” restaurants that cater to tourists.
So it’s always with mixed feelings that I approach Cuban food in the U.S. I remember the bare shelves in stores across the island nation. But the name Coppelia Diner–Coppelia’s is a famous ice cream parlor in Havana—grabbed me. So I had to check out this new eatery, open 24/7, to see what Ong and Medina, who also owns Toloache and Yerba Buena, were cooking up.
Inside the vibrantly decorated diner that brightens up a bleak stretch of 14th Street, there’s a long counter and tables and booths. Cuban music plays in the background because, as Ong told me,”of utmost importance to myself—and all of us—is our love for Cuban music.”
Coppelia “is inspired by an old fashioned diner with an ice cream and soda fountain eating counter, as found in Cuba, New York City, and many parts of the world,” Ong explained.
The menu consists of Cuban standards like ropa vieja, eggs and fried plantains, and yucca. But there are also inventive pan-Latin dishes like Chaufa de Mariscos and Peruvian fried rice, with shrimp, tilapia, mussels and tomato salsa, fufu (a root vegetable paste) and plantain puree.
The desserts are Latin-themed.
“For me, I think New York City needs a place where you can get a fabulous cajeta ice cream sundae, or a slice of carrot manchego cake, at 4am in the morning, with homemade everything,” Ong said.
The first time I was there, Ong handed me a serving of his luscious ice creams and sorbets to taste. Two in particular, salted tamarind and apple mojito sorbet, were nothing short of sublime.
A week later, I returned with my hubby. Our starters were crisp-on-the-outside, succulent on-the-inside ham and cheese empanadas, followed by plump tender quesadilla, stuffed with Chihuahua cheese, turkey, bacon and pico de gallo for $8.95. A Cubano, with roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, also priced at $8.95 was delicious and meaty. I did miss the crunch of real Cuban bread, the kind you find everywhere in Little Havana in Miami. Still, the roll was impeccably fresh and helped meld together the flavors of the meats and cheese. For dessert, I dug into yet another scoop of the addictive apple mojito sorbet.
207 W. 14th St.
New York, NY