The Monster has been to Cuba. The Cuban food he had in Miami was better than most anything sampled in Havana. It’s tantamount to Indian food often times being better in London than Mumbai. Or Chinese food being better anywhere in the world other than China.
Los Angeles isn’t renowned for Cuban food. There is an ongoing debate pitting various restaurants (El Cochinito, La Cubana, El Rincon Criollo, El Floridita, Versailles etc) but generally those in the know (Cubans) tend to argue and then declare their mother is a better cook than any of these places. They very well may be right and they should invite The Monster over for dinner. But since this never happens, to satiate his desire The Monster will hit up one of the above establishments. On this day it is Versailles.
Cuban food is a mélange of Spanish, Caribbean and African influence and generally can be parsed down to: meat, beans, rice. But the things that can be done with the meat, beans, and rice can be revelatory when prepared well (and stultifyingly boring when not).
Since Angelenos tend not to care much about dishes being authentic and lean more toward a pure love of taste, The Monster isn’t here to make this a polemic on whether Versailles serves authentic Cuban food, nor will he engage in which of the restaurants reigns supreme.
The various locations of Versailles tend to be modest affairs, often with the lights turned off (very authentic!) and waiters who do just enough to remind you that someone is serving you and you don’t have to go to the kitchen and ladle the food onto the plate yourself.
The meal starts off with chicken empanadas. Large, golden brown affairs filled with minced meat, they look decidedly unimpressive on the plate (great presentation Versailles, don’t try too hard!). The Monster even questions whether perhaps they will need a sauce. But when he bites into them that thought is quickly suppressed. Versailles’ empanadas remind The Monster of their cousin, the Jamaican patty. And like those, there is plenty of flavor within the outer crust to warrant eating them sans sauce. Fine start.
Next up come the Camarones Enchilados (shrimp in distinct Creole sauce). Nope. There is nothing distinct about them besides being a small portion with little taste. See, that would make them normal if you were in Cuba and served the same dish. What The Monster wants is something inauthentic, large shrimp in delicious sauce. Not happening.
Lastly, on this day The Monster orders the Famoso Pollo Versailles (Versailles famous garlic chicken) which is a roasted half chicken marinated in garlic sauce and garnished with sliced onions. The meat is tender, the garlic pungent, the onions crisp. While simple, it is a taste explosion that when covered in rice and beans brings The Monster back to his time in Cuba.
Desserts at Versailles tend to be the type of items that send you looking for another place to get a sugar fix and since The Monster never drinks coffee it’s time to get the bill and hit the road.
Why go? Your mother isn’t Cuban.
Monster rating: 3/5 Monsters
Locations: Central Los Angeles (South La Cienega Boulevard and Venice Boulevard), Manhattan Beach, Encino