By Brett Hoag Photography: Claudia Hoag
Twenty-four years ago, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I met some friends for a bite at the Versailles Comida Cubana on La Cienega. For our 24th Anniversary we decided to go back to where it all began, but this time we would stop in the Culver City location on Venice Blvd.
Upon entry, we first noticed the enticing aroma wafting from the open kitchen. The second thing was how packed they were. While this is not always indicative of the quality of grub being conjured, it still bodes better than an empty interior. The third was the dessert options!
After we were seated by the gracious hostess, a waitron approached with a basket of fresh garlic bread to enjoy as we contemplated the menu. The garlic bread was perfectly seasoned, oven warm and pristinely sliced. Munching on it as I perused said menu, and still being enthralled with my bride of 24 years, I forgot to order the planned Ejemplos De Versailles Sampler Plate to begin our gastronomical journey, oh well, it makes for a plausible reason for a repeat visit. After a few minutes, our waiter approached us and asked if we were ready to order. His name escapes me, but he was spot-on all night. My wife placed an order of Filete De Salmon A La Parrilla (filet of salmon grilled in garlic sauce with a touch of butter) Plate, while I opted for the traditional Cuban meal of Ropa Vieja (shredded flank steak in a tomato-wine sauce).
Sadly, the Salmon decided to pull a diva and refused to put forth a good side for a clear picture, but suffice it to say it was grilled to perfection and as beautifully plated as the Ropa Vieja, complete with rice, black beans and fried plantains. The Salmon filet flaked as it should with a fork, a clear sign the human operating the grill knew what they were doing. The garlic sauce was delightful on the palate without being overpowering as garlic so oft can be, with a finishing hint of butter it was truly delectable. The fried plantains were completely to die for and my Brazilian Bride nodded between mouthfuls of black beans and rice her approval of the sides.
When I am trying something new, especially in the arena of food, I always try to go with what the typical person in that region would order. In this case, I went with a dish found in every Abuelita's recipe box, Ropa Vieja. Ropa Vieja literally translates into "old clothes" and was originally made from leftovers.
While that may have been the humble beginning of this traditional dish, I assure you, what was offered up at Versailles Comida Cubana was far from yesterday's meal. The flank steak was thinly sliced, then shredded and slow-cooked to a succulent tenderness. The tomato-wine sauce was sweet, tangy and delightful on the palate. I also found the fried plantains to be otherworldly and the rice and beans scrumptious.
For dessert, my date went with the Dulce De Leche Cheesecake, while I again stuck with the traditional and asked for some Flan Cubano. With the fear of being repetitive, I must say, the desserts were as well executed as the preceding meal. The cheesecake was firm, fresh and caramelly delicious. The flan was prepared flawlessly and tasted exquisite. This was a delightful dining experience and I highly recommend this place for a family gathering as the prices were reasonable, the portions large and the flavors outstanding, bon appétit!