AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: My Favorite Dishes: #8 - Cubanos at the Chez DATE: 3/17/2009 08:18:00 AM ----- BODY:
Photo by David

Long before the paninis became trendy in the US, Cubans were making their own pressed sandwiches. The classic Cuban sandwich layers smoked ham, slow roasted pork, Swiss cheese and pickles, and presses it all between layers of soft white baguettes with a smear of mayonnaise and mustard. And the medianoche, a popular snack for after a long night of clubbing – resembles the traditional Cuban sandwich, but is served on a softer roll with less ham. What Cuba invented, Chez Henri perfected.

Chez Henri is a French-Cuban Bistro outside of Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. It opened in 1996 and was named one of the country’s best new restaurants by Esquire Magazine. Most of the accolades could be attributed to the original chef, Corinna Mozo whose French Canadian – Cuban heritage inspired the menu’s theme. She also wrote the recipe for the Cuban sandwiches, which have been a mainstay on the bar menu ever since. Corinna moved on long ago, and the restaurant continues to putter along… the main dining room is often half empty but the bar is always packed.

The reason: the management will not allow customers to order the famous Cuban sandwiches in the dining room, only in the bar area. And most people dine at Chez Henri for the “cubanos.” Including me.

Now that you have a brief, albeit opinionated, history of the restaurant, let me tell you about the Cuban sandwich.

This version has all the features of the original, but pumped up. Like the classic, it combines pork and ham, but with a thick layer of each thinly sliced. The pork marinates in a sour orange mojo before its slow roasting; and the smoky ham is sweet and slightly salty. They slather the bread with mayonnaise spiked with chipotles and cilantro. And to pull in the French influence, the meat is topped with melted Gruyere cheese and a blend of cornichon pickles. Before grilling the sandwich over hardwood charcoal, they brush the bread with a blend of butter and whole grain mustard.

They also make a vegetarian version of the sandwich with slices of grilled peppers, eggplant and onions. I typically order two sandwiches, one of each, and share with a friend. With a side of plantain chips and a small green salad, this is definitely one of the top ten dishes in Boston!

I worked at Chez Henri back in their early days, and regularly fixed myself a sandwich before my shift began. Thirteen years later, I’m still loving it!


----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger melissa DATE:3/17/2009 03:07:00 PM Good lord that sounds awesome. I wonder why they don't just cave and let people order it in the restaurant.

I LOVE cubanos and you know I just discovered them very recently. Addictive. I imagine the chipotle-cilantro mayo really kills this one. I'm craving now! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Heather DATE:3/17/2009 08:17:00 PM oh holy moley i love cuban sandwiches! those sound amazing!! mmm. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger adele DATE:3/17/2009 08:36:00 PM Oh my. How have I not heard of these before?

*adds Chez Henri to to-visit list* ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Psychgrad DATE:3/18/2009 08:04:00 AM Now THAT's a sandwich.

Kind of makes you wonder how much money they're losing by not filling their half empty restaurant...though maybe the popularity of the sandwich would die down if people weren't seeing a packed bar. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous noble pig DATE:3/18/2009 02:53:00 PM I have still never tried one but REALLY want to. It sounds so good. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Julia DATE:3/19/2009 05:47:00 PM Melissa and Psychgrad -- I think they believe that they'd have lower check averages if they let people order cubans in the dining room. I dunno -- lower average is better than no average.

Heather -- oh it is! Next time you're in cambridge...

adele -- I assume you're on your way now! it's so worth it.

noble pig -- it's a pretty straightforward recipe to make at home too. with your kitchen savvy... I imagine you could rival the chez. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Lori Lynn DATE:3/20/2009 12:56:00 AM Love the Cubano, posted one last November. Your photo of this one is absolutely spectacular. I think I'll make it again soon! It is definitely a Cuban American theme, when I was in Cuba, I saw not a one.
LL ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Lori Lynn DATE:3/20/2009 01:01:00 AM Addendum:
Ah, I left out the word "now." Perhaps the workers in Cuba are still making this sandwich, but on our legal tour with a museum, we did not see them.
LL ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Julia DATE:3/20/2009 07:29:00 PM Lori Lynn -- isn't it interesting how a foreign cuisine gets reinvented in the US? ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Ralph DATE:3/23/2009 10:08:00 AM As a Cuban American living in Boston - who just returned from a visit to his Miami family - I can assure you that the Cuban sandwich is authentic Cuban "cuisine" (well, more like fast food)...when it doesn't have Chiptle Cilantro mayo. As good as that may be, this is why I've never been to Chez Henri's....I'm concerned I'll begin to forget how real Cuban food is supposed to taste.

By the way, Lori Lynn, I imagine the reason you didn't see this sandwich in Cuba when you visited, is that there's a lot of expensive protein in it, something difficult for the socialist society to produce in enough abundance to feed its tourists, never mind it's citizens. ----- --------