Catharsis Restaurant & Lounge

 

Catharsis scores 3 stars for music & rich fare in Little Havana

catharsis interior

Victoria Pesce Elliott

There is something refreshingly naïve about Catharsis, an ambitiously named and unusually endearing supper club in Little Havana. This hybrid live music spot and upscale Latin/Italian restaurant has quickly become a local favorite. Though I doubt any major cathartic experiences will occur here, it sure is a fun place to spend a date night. The menu and website promote gimmicky experiences, including dining in the dark, an occasional prix-fix dinner in sleep glasses. It also promises to be a place “where food meets psychology” and a good spot “to cleanse your soul with the taste of [their] richly diverse culture.” While I have no idea what any of that means I do think that the place is worth a try, at least on a lively weekend night when incredible artists, including Latin Grammy-winner Fernando Osorio, play soulful tunes from Oye Como Va to Bessame Mucho.

Our visit on a recent Friday night happened to coincide with Viernes Culturales, the monthly event that turns otherwise mild-mannered Little Havana into a full-fledged street party. We were seated at a two-top smack in front of the compact black-box stage seemed to be having as much fun as the guests in the surrounding tables, packed ear to ear.

The menu offers an appealing array of retro menu items that tend to be on the rich and decadent side but also include some refreshing salads. It is clear that the chef Alberto Llano has training and talent, even if his dishes are sometimes exuberantly garnished circa 1990 with sprigs of this and that more for looks than flavor. Catharsis is a definitely recommended destination for lovers of something different. Here that is great music, authentic hospitality, a Latin vibe, thoughtfully prepared food served in generous portions at very reasonable prices in a romantic spot.

Ambience: The setting is fancy in a generic, banquety way. Shiny white tablecloths are set with sturdy flatware and plates. Only the pretty little vase of roses was in the right spot.Though overwhelmed on busy nights, waiters dressed nattily in black with shiny salmon-colored wide ties couldn’t be nicer. They were quick to offer suggestions and to allow plenty of time to decide.

What Worked

  • A Caesar salad served with a load of dressing and nice crisp romaine
  • Incredibly juicy, deeply flavorful short ribs served as a full rack over a plate of polenta and accented with a smooth demi-glace that hints of a fruity red wine and a lingering beefy base
  • Incredibly satisfying parillada de mariscos - an impressive platter of meaty grilled camarones, pillowy scallops, calamari and mussels with a distinctive charred edge and a nice balance of expertly executed green and yellow squash, red onion and tomato
  • A moist filet of corvina - a firm, mild white-fleshed fish served with an earthy carrot puree and fresh baby greens
  • A rough cut ceviche of shrimp and corvina spiked with habanero
  • A well-curated and gently priced selection of wines primarily from Spain, Italy, France, Chile and California
  • Delicious, but overproofed, dulce de leche crepes with a necessary cool and creamy vanilla ice cream

  • Adorable flan on a swirly sauce-decorated plate dabbed with a crown of whipped cream, mint and a tower of more caramel than anyone should endeavor to eat.

 

What Didn't Work

  • A "not at all noteworthy" simple mixed green salad mixed tableside
  • Unfortunately oversauced but delicate and delicious mushroom stuffed ravioli and a cheesy gnocchi

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