Restaurant review_ ceniza offers a cultural escape in ooltewah _ times free press

I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba. Best lunch places in san diego I imagine it to be like stepping back in time to a romantic era when life was simpler. Best food places in san diego Add to that the island culture and climate, the charming European flair and the passion naturally infused with Latin culture, and you’ve got what I imagine to be a piece of my own personal heaven.

Since I couldn’t even hope to travel to the island nation before 2016, I have, on a few occasions, made the haul down to Miami, where more than half the population is Cuban, according to multiple news sources.

Locally, I’ve found myself at Embargo 62, a Cuban-inspired restaurant by Cuban-American Miami transplant Danny Alcala and his wife, Brittany, located on the North Shore.

They also own Ceniza in Ooltewah, which adds cigars to the cultural offerings, and a quick perusal of the menu showed it might be a little more my speed. Famous food in los angeles Ceniza offers a selection of more-intricate sounding entrees next to a small selection of humble — yet exotic — sounding sandwiches, which make up a large portion of the menu at Embargo.

Just like Embargo 62, Ceniza offers an out-of-this-town experience with its laid-back, island-invoking decor and color scheme.

In a total testament to Miami, the bar inside the Ooltewah eatery takes center stage. Good restaurants in san diego Akin to the kitchen in typical house parties, it welcomes people to jump right into the action by grabbing one of the many plush leather bar stools, while a smattering of tables offer slightly more intimate seating.

The open space of the restaurant’s interior invites interaction, even if just peripherally as the artfully arranged dishes are paraded past.

While I recognized many of the offerings by name — the Cuban sandwich ($8) and empanadas ($8), for example — they’re not familiar to me, so I’m not sure I have the best benchmark. Best restaurants in san diego ca But I enjoy trying new things, and am always up for a night out, especially if it comes with the added bonus of quality, culture or both.

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised by Embargo’s menu of primarily sandwiches, so I was excited to visit its richer-sounding cousin. Best mexican food in san diego (Though I should also say that my taste test at Embargo was everything I hoped it would be, even if the menu wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

In addition to touches like truffle oil-soaked plantains, the Medianoche sandwich apparently tasted just like the ones my mother used to line up for in the early morning hours — coincidentally, medianoche means “midnight” in Spanish — after finishing her nurses’ training rounds in Miami.)

I always say dinner isn’t really a meal without wine, and I have been known to employ that same mentality when it comes to my meals out: They must be balanced and slightly sophisticated for me to be fulfilled.

So while there were items on Ceniza’s menu that drew my attention — like the Elena Ruz, which combines roast turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam on a semi-sweet bun in an $8 homage to a well-known Cuban socialite — I ultimately relegated myself to the entree portion of the menu, which boasted meals like Cajun shrimp pasta ($17).

We started with empanadas. Best food places in los angeles The ones I’ve had before were more like egg rolls in that their crispy shell was a primary flavor. Best lunch places in los angeles These were more like dumplings in that the shell was just a complement. Best indian food in chicago And they were much bigger than I expected from my limited previous experience — a good thing. Best lunch places in new orleans Our cheese-filled ones tasted like the best grilled cheese ever.

Sadly, I didn’t see a side Caesar salad on the menu, but luckily, that’s my boyfriend’s fave, so I still got to try it while saving room for my main course.

Since the Island Caesar ($11) was meant to be an entree, it had chicken, which I pushed aside so I wouldn’t get too full. Best food places near me The dressing was light; almost too light, in my opinion. Good fast food places near me I prefer the classic dressing. Soul food restaurants in miami But the addition of roasted red peppers was a welcome twist, the surprising sweetness they offered something I’ll likely miss in standard Caesars from now on.

Before deciding on my main dish, I asked our server for his favorites, which included the CFC and Mac ($13): Ceniza fried chicken served with macaroni and the veggie of the day. Soul food restaurants in atlanta ga I went with his other suggestion, braised oxtail ($15.50): beef tail braised and pot-roasted in Malbec wine and served with steamed white rice and plantains, which they were out of. Soul food restaurants in atlanta georgia (I subbed Brussels sprouts.)

My boyfriend, who knows me better than most and has the “pleasure” of cooking for my finicky tastes almost every night of the week, warned me against it.

I’m no Donald Trump ordering steaks well done, but I’m a little boring when it comes to meat. Good chinese food that delivers near me I don’t like fat or bones. Soul food restaurants in nj This cut comes with a lot of both, I learned. Best lobster in atlanta The bone was dealt with easily enough — the meat was fork-tender — but the fat was inescapable. Best lunch restaurants in los angeles Marbled in with the meat, it gave flavor, but also a texture I’m not as comfortable with. Best lunch spots in los angeles Overall, though, it was what I expected from a stew-based meat, and I enjoyed its comforting heartiness. Famous restaurants in los angeles for celebrities I imagine that dish is what I would be served by someone’s abuelita if I ever made it to Cuba. Famous restaurants in los angeles A meal made with not only tradition, but time and love, for special occasions and guests.

We sat at the bar so we could get immediate access to a “guide” as we branched out from our usual dinner fare. Best lunch spots in san diego He was never too far away, but didn’t hover. Popular restaurants in los angeles He answered my questions and helped steer me, and I could tell he had a genuine taste for the food and drinks he served — an important quality in any restaurant, but especially in an out-of-the-box dining establishment.

For me, the biggest draw of the Alcalas’ restaurants is the exotic nature and ambiance they both share. Best restaurants in san diego I enjoyed our escape from the ordinary to Ceniza, but might stick closer to home next time, both in terms of the drive and my selection. Best restaurants in downtown san diego You know what they say: It’s medianoche somewhere.

Contact Jennifer Bardoner at or call 423-757-6579.

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