¡Cuba, Si!

Mamey's offers great food, great folks, great mojitos.

When you cross the line dividing city sidewalk from bricked patio of Mamey's Cuban Bistro, be sure to reset your watch to Latin time. Mamey's serves things when they should be servedwith plenty of time to relax between coursesnot when the ticking of a second hand says so. When I arrived at Mamey's recently, I was without a watch. A smiling waitress asked where I would like to sit. After I'd had some time to enjoy the sun sinking behind the Olympicsperhaps a minute, perhaps 10 (Latin time, remember)she returned and took my drink order. Mamey's has an extensive drinks menu, but on a first visit to a self-proclaimed Cuban bistro, there are two obvious choices: Cuba libre or mojito. As a sucker for all things minty, I went for the mojito ($6). Mamey's puts a spin on the classic mojito with the addition of fresh lemon to the mix, and serves it not in a stingy highball glass but in a generous beer glass filled with just-right proportions of rum and soda. One sip and I immediately was reabsorbed into the beauty of the Olympics and the lapping of the water against the Alki shore and forgot all about deciding what I would like to eat. The waitress returned, asking, "Can I get you something to start with?" But I was too busy thinking about the water and gawking at the posh cars and pretty people streaming by to choose from the tantalizing appetizer lineup. Fortunately, Mamey's anticipated my difficulty with an appetizer sampler platter ($17). With the sun a degree or so lower in the sky, a giant plate covered with every sort of Cuban finger food landed on my table: empanadas, croquetas (croquettes stuffed with meat pur饩, yucca fritta (yucca French fries), papas rellenas (dumpling-esque potato balls stuffed with ground meat and vegetables), and three types of plantainstostones (green, mashed, and fried), maduros (sweet and ripe), and marquitas (plantain chips). Accompanying the mountain of food was Mamey's complex and creamy garlic salsa. It's not your usual dipping sauce. On another visit, I found other ways to start a Mamey's meal. An excellent marinated avocado salad ($5) was creamy and refreshing, and the black bean soup ($3.50) was thick and spicy, the best I've ever had. As the sky turned rosy over Mamey's, I still hadn't figured out what I would have as my entr饮 Instead of trying everything, I went with the waitress' recommendation of puerco asada ($14), a slow-baked pork leg served with rice and beans. The pork was as tender as the finest Southern barbecue and gently fell apart as I cut into it. The rice and beans, usually a generic dish, had a unique Mamey's flavor spin also. Numerous other pork dishes are offered along with chicken and steak choices. There's seafood, too: a salmon dish (clearly the Alki influence) and camorones a la ajillo ($15), prawns in garlic sauce, though I suspect the prawns, which had little but garlic going for them, of being frozen. My entr饠had disappeared long before the sun did. Stars began to twinkle in the sky: clearly a Latin cue for dessert. I ordered flan ($4) and, wonder of wonders, it arrived just firm and not slimy at all. Midforkful of flan I was approached by Mamey's co-owner, Miriam D'Arco, checking to make sure everything was just right. D'Arco is a friendly and pleasant woman who spent the last 20 years in and out of the restaurant business, first in Miami and then New York. She and her partner, Angela Rinaldo, show their experience by their attention to detail with food and customers. Surely not many other restaurants in the city have three generations of a family on staff or boast a 10-year-old taking orders. (Don't worry; Ally has her food handler's permit.) Mamey's isn't just for long, relaxing dinners. Lunch is served on weekends: Cuban sandwiches ($7), basically, with pork leg, ham, or both, or steak served on flaky Cuban-style bread. The ingredients may be simple, but the relishy mayonnaise they're served with makes everything just right. A meal at Mamey's is as close to a pre-embargo Cuban experience as I'll ever get. And I can almost justify not visiting Cuba today thanks to Mamey's Cuban fantasy trip: sitting watchless in the setting sun on Alki sipping sangria. food@seattleweekly.com

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