Cuba Libre’s “Preview Days” Equals Cheap Fish For Cheapskates

10 years is a good run for any restaurant. Not epic, but solid. In the restaurant world, there are two important anniversaries to celebrate–the first, which means that you have learned how to survive, and the 10th, which means you have learned how to prosper.

Philadelphia’s version of Cuba Libre (which also has locations in Atlantic City, Orlando and Washington D.C.) has made it to the 10-year mark now and, to celebrate, they’ve decided to change…everything.

Okay, not everything everything. The place isn’t suddenly becoming a sushi bar. But after a decade of mojitos and ropa vieja in Old City, partners Barry Gutin, Larry Cohen and chef Guillermo Pernot have decided it’s time to make a few alterations. Like redecorating the interior, for example. Redoing the lighting. Bringing in new signage. Revamping the service, retraining the staff, changing the decor, restructuring the menu, adding small plates and ceviche and (new) soups and (new) salads and a bunch of nuevo touches to the already expansive board.

You know, nothing big…

In terms of the food, most of the changes seem to be related to chef Pernot’s recent travels in Cuba. The kitchen will be adding 25 new piqueos (Cuban tapas, mas o menos) to the top of the menu, including a good spread of a la minute ceviches, new fish and vegetarian presentations (like Dorado a la Plancha and calabaza squash ravioli with goat and mascarpone cheese, pearl onions and pumpkin seeds, respectively), and “reformulated classics” like a nouvelle arroz con pollo which, in this brave new world, is apparently made of chicken leg croquetas, saffron rice, wild mushrooms, green peas, Manzanilla olives, chorizo chips and an asparagus salad. Apparently, chef Pernot was keeping some fine company when he hit the streets in Havana. Dude certainly wasn’t eating out of the markets.

The bad news is, changes this significant to any stable operation are going to cause some hiccups–both on the floor and in the kitchen. The good news? Apparently, the partners are aware of this, and rather than shutting the joint down during the remodel/restructuring and working out the kinks in private, they’ve decided to keep Cube Libre open and look at the nine days between Monday May 23 and Tuesday May 31 (during which they’ll be rolling out the new menu and new service system) as a kind of second soft-open. Customers will be able to come in, eat, drink, check out the new digs and new grub. But at least for part of that time, everything on the menu (less the booze) will be half-price.

Yup: 50% off the regular lunch, dinner and happy hour prices, from Monday to Thursday, then 25% off from Friday ’til Tuesday. They’re calling these days a “preview,” are claiming that the cut-rate prices for fish and yucca and albondigas are just a way for them to reward their loyal customers, but also admit that everything might not yet be perfect. Hence, the deals for those willing to maybe put up with a few bumps as the veteran crew gets their legs under them.