April 26, 2010 by MrBlueSkies
Casona Serves Up Cuban Fair and Nouveau Latin Cuisine
Linda and I have eaten at Casona in Collingswood several times, and I’ve blogged about our experiences there. We’ve had mixed experiences with both the food and the service, especially the service, and I rated Casona as a hit or miss restaurant. Well that did not sit very well with owner, Mark Infantado. Mark told us that he put his heart and soul into the restaurant. He was displeased and concerned over our less than stellar experiences at his establishment. To his credit, he didn’t rant and rave about what I wrote, he took action to correct the problems. He replaced his front of the house manager with a new, experienced manager who was going to retrain his staff to provide a higher level of service. And to put his money where his mouth is, he offered us 50% off our meal if we came in and gave it another shot.
Well who am I to give up such a generous offer? But before we get started, regardless of whether I got a discount or not, my review would be based strictly upon our dining experience. Besides, we generally liked the food at Casona and were certainly willing to give the retrained staff another try. We gave them a few months to work out the kinks and showed up this past Sunday hungry for great food and great service. Fortunately, Casona delivered on all levels this time…
We’ve always liked the interior of Casona. Situated in a converted Victorian-style home with a huge wrap around porch, the dining areas are divided into small pockets that are warm and inviting. Since we got there early, we were seated in a four seater, which I truly recommend over the smallish two tops. In our area, the walls were adorned with small framed paintings and photos.
I cannot say enough about our server, Collin. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive without being overbearing. A total night and day difference as compared to our previous service at Casona. In fact, I would put Collin in the same level as my all time favorite server, Marissa from Cork. He was that good. Throughout the evening, Linda noted that the whole staff seemed more attentive and professional.
Linda and I decided to start off with the Crab Guacamole served with homemade tortilla chips & plantain chips ($11.95), a pineapple soda ($2.95) and Blackberry Sage Iced Tea ($4.95). A unique treat, I really enjoyed my pineapple soda and Linda was pleased with her huge bottle of tea. But the best part was the guacamole. The folks at Casona know how to make a great guacamole. Perfectly seasoned, somewhat smokey, and slightly chunky, the flavors merged together in a delightful sensation. The crab was fresh and meaty and really added that extra zing. The tortilla and plantain chips were hearty pieces that held up against the thick guac. Linda felt they could have been a tad bit more generous with the crab but overall we would give it a 9.5 out of 10. If you like guac, you’ll love the way Casona makes it.
We were a little stuck on the menu. I love Chilean Sea Bass ($24.95) and Linda was leaning towards either the Pork Chop ($21.50) or the Shank of Lamb ($27.95) but the Paella was calling our name so we ordered the Paella for two ($49.95). Casona calls this their “signature” dish. It’s a huge skillet filled with Saffron rice, bay scallops, clams, mussels, shrimp, chorizo, chicken breast, calamari, green peas, and lobster. And they’re not kidding. This dish is huge. And not just huge in size.
The saffron rice was risotto creamy and mildly seasoned. (Paella usually has a crusty bottom but this dish didn’t. Linda and I both felt that we liked it better without the crust.) Every bite was a taste sensation and a real treat. Amazingly enough, everything was cooked just right, which is really difficult to do with a dish that has everything in it but the kitchen sink. The mussels, clams, scallops, and calamari were tender and flavorful. The chunks of chicken and slices of chorizo were also cooked to the right level. The lobster and shrimp were not over cooked. Even the peas tasted fresh. I simply don’t know how they managed to get it so right and I simply didn’t care. All I wanted to do was eat and eat and eat. And there was no skimping on anything in this dish. After stuffing ourselves, we still could have fed another couple with our leftovers. (Except we ate all the lobster, cause Linda and I are greedy like that.)
As amazing as the guacamole and paella were, the best was yet to come: desert. Linda and I both hated flan before coming to Casona. We became flan lovers when we tried their seasonal pumpkin flan, which was truly amazing. This time we decided to try the Coconut Flan ($7.95) in hopes of a repeat performance. We also ordered a cup of decaffeinated Cafe con Leche Cubano ($3.95) coffee. Collin informed us that this drink is a Cuban coffee with sweetened milk and foam and we asked if he could make it less sweat, which he said he could. The coffee was strong, milky, and subtly sweet. But the real treat was the flan. Both dense and creamy at the same time, this desert dances upon the tongue, melding with the fresh coconut and caramel sauce. The addition of strawberry sauce on the plate surprised us but added a very pleasant sweet and tart taste to the flan. Nobody does flan like Casona. NOBODY. If nothing else, go there and indulge yourself in their cuban coffees and flan.
Our dining experience was nothing short of excellent. As the evening progressed and the restaurant filled up, you could hear the laughter and chatter build. As I looked around the restaurant, the tables were full of smiling people – people who were enjoying the food, the service, the company, the whole experience. And that is what dining out should be all about: Great food, tip-top service, and a good time for all. And that’s what Casona delivered for us this past Sunday. Will we be back? You betcha, even sans the 50% off. I can hear that Sea Bass calling my name…