Monday, April 25, 2005

tres leches cake

I don't know how I have lived for 30 years on this earth without tasting Tres Leches cake. For those who haven't tried it, it is a Cuban specialty that basically involves a white cake soaked in three different types of milk: condensed, cream, and evaporated. This past weekend, on my quest to try locally owned establishments, I headed out to Numero Uno, a Cuban restaurant that has been an Orlando institution since 1974. Amy had eaten there before with her friends Pat, Kathy & Vance and recommended it wholeheartedly. I've been looking forward to trying it, since most of my experiments with Cuban food have involved fast food or food that claims to be (but isn't necessarily) Cuban.

Advertising itself to be the best Cuban food north of Miami,Numero Uno did not disappoint. Amy, Nour and I started with a carafe of fruit-laden sangria and several appetizers-- empanadas, tostones, and papas fritas. The empanadas were stuffed with cheese or beef and were just OK. The tostones, fried green plantains stuffed with saucy chicken and cheese, were out of this world, as were the papas fritas, which were basically mashed potato croquettes, done perfectly. We got three different entrees, the best of which were Amy's braised lamb, covered with spicy tomato sauce, and Nour's ropa vieja, slow-cooked beef practically falling apart into another smoky, spicy tomato-based sauce. All were served with rice and a side of simple yet filling black beans.

But the cake, the cake. What can I say about this cake? I like cake but rarely do I eat a slice that thrills me the way this one did. When Amy said we had to try this, and that it involved condensed milk, I was already sold. I intended to take only a bite (sorry, Amy) but instead found myself fighting for every last morsel. The three sweetened milks of the "tres leches" combine together to add a wonderful complexity that is sweet but not cloying, and the cake surprisingly does not turn to mush or fall apart. I would put it in the same category of food as the Indian gulab jamun, which is basically fried dough in a syrupy sauce, also another favorite of mine, but tres leches is perhaps its superior. It is cake, and definitely not fried dough. Where, when, will I eat it again? This dilemma crowds out other thoughts and has, in the days since we left Numero Uno, taken on increasing urgency.

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