The Party gods own Spring Break on the West Coast; they demand a celebration of life in the form of bright colors, loud music and living it up. Naturally, when my friend Lee mentioned wanting to head up for her Spring Break vacation, I enthusiastically accepted. She flew up from the Southwest in the late morning and like any good out-of-towner she stepped off the plane hungry.
Lee had been here before but this time round we decided to stretch outside of our comfort zone and try places even I hadn’t been to. Cuban kept creeping into my mind, perhaps because the sun teased that day and reminded me of warmer times. We Google mapped around us and found a place called Pambiche nearby.
As we made our way up the street, a driving bass line pumped through the vibrantly painted exterior walls. “Yep, this is going to be good,” I predicted to my friend. The quaint restaurant makes sardine cans feel roomy. Crammed within its small walls are more tables than it should have; to further add to the frenetic atmosphere, lively paintings, wooden carvings, and musical instruments hang in the air as one-minded waiters bustle to and from the bar like bumbling bees.
I don’t say this as a critique. The setting seems natural or serendipitous and adds to the experience; its guests gather on this little island, sat close to strangers who become neighbors. You can’t avoid overhearing intimate conversations and smiling, sipping on mojitos and enjoying the feeling of “getting away” for the lunch hour.
Ropa vieja is arguably the most notable Cuban dish and my mouth watered for it, but in the spirit of new experiences, I ordered the Arroz con Pollo. For eight dollars I had enough for two gigantic meals. A big sprig of parsley sat atop Creole-style chicken sprinkled with paprika, saffron, and olives. Valencia saffron rice mingled with a healthy portion of fresh peas, cabbage and cilantro. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of saffron and the first bite confirmed that perfectly cooked rice consistency a Southern girl like me demands of jambalaya.
I was in my happy food place; where music, food and good company all intermingle to create the perfect dish.