New York City’s Asia de Cuba Is Reborn in the East Village
After a 14-year stay at the Morgans New York Hotel, Asia de Cuba recently took up residence at a new East Village location.
The restaurant’s new chef, Luis Pous, joined the team after making a commitment to honor the marriage of Latin and Asian ingredients, techniques, and flavors. The former executive chef of the Little Palm Island Resort & Spa spoke to The Daily Meal about his plan to bring a taste of the tropics to the new menu.
The Daily Meal: When you first came on board, what was your initial approach to reinventing a thirty-year-old menu?
Chef Luis Pous: When I first met with Jeffrey Chodorow, he asked me to take a look at the old menu and tell him what I thought. I explained that there were a lot of ideas in the menu — some that were creations and some that were real and authentic. This cuisine is something personal to me because I am from Havana, so I believed that we had to do something to update it. I told Jeffrey to mark the items he wanted to keep and that I would do the same. Amazingly, we wound up marking the same items. In my head, I began to envision how I could make them even better.
How did you do that?
I started to think about the food that I loved to eat in the Chinese restaurants as a kid growing up in Cuba, and thought about our traditional Cuban cuisine, along with my memories from Chinatown in Cuba. I started creating dishes that are more up to date and healthier, using mostly fresh ingredients and nicer presentations. The current Asia de Cuba is my vision of what the modern Cuban Chinatown would be today if the revolution had not happened.
What were some of the more challenging aspects of fusing two very different types of cuisine?
I wouldn’t call them different cuisines per say, I would consider them as different styles of cooking. The two cultures use a lot of similar ingredients such as seafood, pork, cilantro, rice, etc. The sweetness of the Chinese cuisine is due to their use of sugar; our cuisine is more savory, and our sweetness comes from fruit such as guava and mangoes. The Asian culture uses them as well but typically cooks them into the food where as in Cuban cuisine we use it as a fresh ingredient and our food at the end is more savory.
Rumor has it that some of your daily specials became so popular that you had to add them as menu staples.
The short rib vaca frita with ginger carrot puree, plantain fufu, and Chinese broccoli mojo was run as a special and now is an item on our menu. We are currently running a special of roasted “Calabaza China” with lamb picadillo, kale, garbanzos, olives, and toasted pumpkin seeds which is being well received at the moment, and may end up on the menu.
Do you think that the new Asia de Cuba will draw a different crowd than the old one? Have you seen that happen?
Yes, most definitely. We are seeing it already. Our approach to food is more chef-driven, and this time around with me being from Cuba, the guests will certainly find differences on the menu. The crowd has — and will — change.
How have you improved on the last menu, and what have you kept, and why?
We kept the tuna pica, calamari salad and the coconut cake, because they were the most popular and renowned items. The menu is a lot lighter and has a more modern presentation. In addition, we run specials with old dishes from time to time as a tribute to the old AdC.