CAFE FUEGO (this restaurant has closed)

Last night my sisters and I decided to go out to dinner for my younger sister's birthday. My older sister works in the East Village, so that was our dining destination. We ended up going to the 2-month old Cuban restaurant on St. Marks called Cafe Fuego. I heard good things about this spot, and was excited to venture into Cuban territory, a cuisine I rarely indulge in.

The place looks really nice. It's a casual atmosphere, but still gives you that romantic feel. The first thing that caught my eye when I looked at the menu was the prices. It was all cheap and the highest priced dish was $17.95. We started with a $55 dollar bottle of Champagne from California, which actually is not champagne, but sparkling wine. It was great. A touch sweet, but not too sweet.

For appetizers we had the empanada with chicken, the calamari on a corn medley, and choripan- which is bread with melted mozzarella and chorizo.

The empanada was excellent. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. It came with a tangy green sauce that complimented it well.

The choripan was not that great. It reminded me of a more Italian sandwich. But, a "not that good" sandwich you might get at your local "not that good" deli.

The calamari was not that good either. It was more corn medley than calamari. And the flavor was basically non-existent. I added lime, which did nothing to the overblandness of the dish.

For my entree I decided to try the suckling pig with onions, tomatoes and rice and beans. Suckling pig is not something I ever had, so I was excited, and asked the waitress to make sure that pig was suckling! Well, this dish was a huge disappointment. In fact, it might have been the most dry piece of meat I have ever encountered in my life. There was no flavor. I assumed the onions and garlic were supposed to help moisten the pig, but they did nothing. It was truly awful. I didn't send it back, and in fact finished it, but I should definitely have sent it back.

My sister ordered a shrimp dish that was bland too. The shrimps had garlic on them, but it didn't taste good at all. It came with an even more bland yellow rice. Do they have salt and pepper in Cuba??

My other sister ordered a steak which came with a green garlic and butter sauce. It was ok, and had least gave the steak a bit of flavor. The best part of her dish, and probably of all the dishes were the fries that came with the steak. They were extremely crispy, just the way I like them. They were actually some of the best fries I have encountered. I guess I'm a crispiness fanatic!

For dessert the restaurant gave us everything for free- due to it being my sister's birthday. This was very generous of them, and luckily the desserts did not dissappoint. The churros with dulce de leche were amazing. Sweet, tasty, and crispy! Delicious! The bread pudding was not overly sweet and really good too. The flan was sweet but tasted great. The chocolate puta (yes, that is what they call their chocolate cake) was fine.

Would I go back to this restaurant? That is a very interesting question. I really wanted to like this place. I hate to say you get what you pay for, but in this case what we got for our money was mostly bland and flavorless. The restaurant is young and I will give it another try to get all their flavor kinks out. Also, they were understaffed, instead of the usual four servers, they only had two. Maybe the kitchen felt the pressure. But, the main reason I'd go back is to have those churros one more time!

So if you are in the East Village and looking to get your Cuban on for cheap you might consider Cafe Fuego. Let's just hope by that time you get more bang for your buck.

Cafe Fuego

9 St. Marks Place (between 2nd and 3rd avenue)

New York, NY 10001