Update: Gregoria’s Kitchen had a terrible fire last year, but they are finally reopening in a new location. They will now be located at 2701 Hillsborough Road in Durham in early 2014.
My friends and I went to Gregoria’s Kitchen for dinner tonight. I have to explain that these two couples, and my husband and I all met in Tampa back in the early 1990′s. Having lived in Tampa and having Cuban food easily available anytime we wanted it, we became Cuban food snobs. So, every Cuban place that has opened in the Triangle (except the Old Havanna Sandwich Shop) has not come even close to what we think of when we say we want some Cuban food.
Gregoria’s Kitchen, however, finally met our strict standards (with a few exceptions, but this is as good as you are going to get outside of Florida). Gregoria’s Kitchen, first of all, is not at all pure Cuban food. It is nouveau-Cuban, upscale food. Think of traditional Cuban foods that are slow cooked, producing fine, thick gravies and flavorful rice dishes, then add a twist of finesse to them, making these dishes more refined than what we would get in Ybor City or off of Tampa Boulevard. The chef, Dania Gonzalez, was raised in South Florida, so she knows a lot about Cuban food and has put her own twist on many of the traditional dishes. Her mother’s name is Gregoria, so that is how they came up with the name of the restaurant.
Trying to find this restaurant can be a little bit of a challenge. It is located on Chapel Hill Road in an old house near an apartment complex. You have to be looking for it to find this place. But once inside, it has an intimate and inviting ambiance. It reminded me of dining in the Fearrington House, because it’s an old renovated home. Latin music is playing in the background adding to the festive mood of the dining room.
We started our meal with two appetizers. We had the Relleno de Platano Maduro, or fried plantains that were stuffed with a ground beef, jalapenos, and tomatoes and topped with melted cheese. The plantains were sweet and countered the spiciness of the ground beef mixture. Everyone loved them.
We also had the Yuqita Frita, which was fried yucca topped with chopped cilantro and vinegar. We were joking about how yucca is typically boiled and served with a lot of melted butter. My husband usually can’t stand yucca as a result, but this dish was great. It was like having french fries dosed with some vinegar. It was golden and crispy on the outside, but soft and easy to eat inside. One of my friends said it was the best yucca dish she had ever eaten.
For entrees, a couple of us had the Ropa Vieja. This is a very traditional Cuban dish. It means “old clothes” and is described this way because the skirt steak is slow roasted until it literally starts to shred into little pieces of meat, perhaps reminding people of old rags. But again, this dish was elevated to a new level. The beef was served atop a really amazing roasted tomato sauce and garbanzo beans. Wow! It was really tender and very flavorful! The side of black beans and rice was really not needed, but is something you would typically think of serving with a dish like this. I hardly touched the side, saving my appetite for dessert.
My husband and one of our friends split the Paella. Paella is a Spanish seafood dish served with yellow rice. This dish was dazzling to the eye and the tastebuds. It had nice sized pieces of shrimp, mussels, chorizo, calamari, and chicken with some peppers and other vegetables. The seafood was nice and light and the chorizo added some great spice to the dish.
My other friend had the special of the day, which was a Mahi Mahi topped with pineapple and some other fruit. She also really enjoyed her meal.
For dessert, we tried the guava pastries and the tres leches and the manager also brought out a serving of the flan. The guava pastry was nice and light. The tanginess of the guava wakens your tongue while the sweetness of the pastry and the richness of the vanilla ice cream makes a perfect little end to a great meal. The Tres Leches, is another very traditional Cuban dessert and this was one of the prettiest presentations I’ve seen of a Tres Leches. Tres Leches is “three milks” that are used to soak the cake and is served with a dark rum over a vanilla custard. It was garnished with some kiwi and mango. It was pretty and tasted great. The flan, in our opinion, was not the greatest though. We thought it was too firm and didn’t have a lot of flavor. Usually flan is served with a caramel topping. This had no sauce at all and was too dense for a flan.
But that was really the only complaint we had (OK, and the bread was not Cuban bread). The staff and the waitress were really friendly, the dining room was warm and comfortable and the food was excellent! We will come here again sometime soon I’m sure.