I'd never been to the one in Pasadena - always meant to, never got around to it, so I was excited when this one opened up. Our reservations were for 8PM on Saturday. The room is charming, on two levels, with the upper looking out over the lower. We were on the upper level, on the balcony part so we could look at the diners and bar below. Again, dim, but not overly so. Comfy chairs, nice silverware and glassware. Pleasant atmosphere.
The menu is divided into primeros and segundos - appetizers and entrees. Most of the entrees can be ordered in half-sized portions - all the better for tasting! There were also some sandwiches, if I remember correctly. They also have a lunch special - $14 for 3 courses (salad/soup starter, entree, and sorbet/cookies for dessert).
I found it curious that the waitress, when she finally gave us our menus, asked us if we wanted a cocktail - the mojito, their speciality. It was as if there was no other real option. But that was fine, I knew that Xiomara was known for their mojitos, and that was a large reason for our going there in the first place. And they were made with fresh sugar cane juice! (At least, I think so - I saw the bartender extracting juice from the sugar cane behind the bar.) However, not all mojitos are equal. Mine was on the slightly more sour side, while my boyfriend's was on the sweeter side. We switched, and I was content. At least for the time being.
Eventually, we settled on four dishes from the primero side of the menu.
*nuevo cubano salad (I think this is the name). The salad was separated into its individual elements - hearts of palm, slices of heirloom tomatoes, some tender greens (like mache, but not mache), and a small terrine of avocado and tomatoes. Doused with a nice citrusy dressing. Very clean and pleasant.
*churrascurria (sp?) a platter of dried/cured/smoked meats. I can't remember what the menu promised, but there seemed to be a type of jamon serrano, and a preponderance of dried sausage-type meats. All were very good. Served with a roasted red pepper and this delightful little confection of quince paste layered with manchego cheese.
*rock shrimp tamale. Good, not outstanding. Nothing really sticks in my mind about this dish.
*duck ropa vieja on some sort of cooked polenta-like base. Like the tamale, it too was good although not special.
For dessert, while the pastel con tres leches was definitely tempting, we ordered the profiteroles instead. There were three served, each a different flavour - vanilla, coffee and chocolate, perhaps? A nice ending to the meal.
The major failing here was the service. It took forever for us to get anything. True, the restaurant was very busy (mostly full, if I remember correctly), but it took about 10 minutes for us to get menus, and 30 for the dessert (we were on the verge of cancelling it - had a 10PM movie to get to, but at the last minute, voila, it appeared!). There were people at neighbouring tables who had to wait even longer. It was a little bit ridiculous. I understand that the restaurant is new, but this was just too much of a wait. Until they get that ironed out, I don't plan on returning. Maybe just for drinks. Those mojitos were good.