Visited on Tuesday, December 20th with Erin's family
It felt like an ordeal to pick a restaurant for my family birthday dinner this year. Since we were going on a weeknight, it needed to be somewhere relatively close to our house to avoid traffic because we'd be going at the height of rush hour. I really wanted to go somewhere new, but felt we'd exhausted the family friendly options in St. Paul and eastern Minneapolis on our list. Thankfully, after close examination of our list (which caused me to finally update it to delete all the places that closed and add a bunch of new places - it had been awhile for sure!) I remembered Caribe, one of those places that is so close to our house that I just apparently forget about it completely.
After conversing on twitter with one of Caribe's biggest fans (@AlecGraham), I decided to risk it with Annie even though it seemed not the most kid friendly place (small menu with no real kid options, small space, dark, etc) and figured she could eat off our plates and that if I brought enough entertainment she'd be okay. It turned out to be mildly stressful, but when is eating out with a toddler ever not?
We got there right at 5:30 and my parents were already seated at our table that we'd reserved a few days prior (they ask for reservations for parties over 6) - we did specify that we were a party of 6 plus a toddler, but were seated at a normal 6 top - luckily it was easy enough to squeeze in a high chair. We waited about 10 more minutes for my sister and brother-in-law to get there, after hearing the specials.
I'd already pretty much decided on the lobster mofongo if they had that, and was DYING to have some of the mango and cheese empanadillas. Perhaps it's pregnancy hormones, but when the server told us they were out of those after I attempted to order them, I was near tears. Yes, irrational. But I REALLY WANTED THEM. Plus I'd had about 10 minutes to get extra sold on the idea since we'd gotten there too. They were also out of 2 of the entrees as well (or just not serving them, not sure which) - note to servers and restaurant owners everywhere - if you KNOW you're out of something, tell the tables immediately so they don't get their heart set on something. It seems like an obvious thing to do when listing the specials. Anyway, through my sorrow, I managed to squeak out an order for the conch fritters instead.
The fritters came out fairly quickly, along with our beverages (I just had water and did try a sip of my sister's sangria - I liked it but she thought it tasted too much like black licorice, which I think was really the black cherries - whatever). I did really enjoy these, they weren't overly fried and the dipping sauces were very tasty. Annie also loved them, especially dipping. We probably could have eaten another order of them even, but wanted to save room for our main dishes.
We had eaten the fritters in record time, so the wait for our main dishes seemed pretty long. I'm not sure if it REALLY was, but I was getting mighty impatient by the time they finally came out, mostly because Annie had decided she'd had enough of sitting in her high chair (no food = no thanks for her) - she was fine one I got out the secret weapon - grapes - but that basically meant she wasn't going to eat anything substantial that evening. It did give me confidence that the food was prepared to order (mostly at least), which is a BIG deal to my Dad - I always like to try to find a place that he will enjoy for our family dinners and he did seem happy with his meal - success! Everyone seemed very happy with their choices.
My dad's pork tenderloin special
As soon as I got my lobster mofongo, I dug in, and gave Annie a few beans and pieces of it - she ate it up until getting a huge piece of lobster that apparently frightened her and she decided she was done with eating for the night (except for a mountain of grapes). The mofongo was excellent - it is described as a classic Puerto Rican dish made with plantains that are first fried,then mashed with garlic, salt pork, olive oil, salt, and pepper,using a mortar and pestle; then stuffed. It reminded me of a cornmeal type casserole dish in texture. It was stuffed with the lobster meat, and as pictured was on a bed of black beans with other veggies. I ate way more than I should have and felt seriously uncomfortable the rest of the night, but it was worth it! I need to remember that no matter how good something tastes, I AM 7 months pregnant and my stomach space is limited.
After we finished our meals, I was waiting and waiting to hear what the dessert special was... finally, my mom and sister finished and our server told us it was coconut tres leches cake, which excited me greatly. Since going to 112 Eatery, I love tres leches cake - and it's one of Ben's favorite desserts (I even made it for his last birthday). We originally were going to get 2 for the table, but decided on 3 and that was definitely a good choice as we devoured all 3 pieces extremely quickly - Annie would have for sure eaten all 3 pieces herself if we let her. This was delicious - almost like pudding and perfectly coconut flavored. A great way to end the meal! They usually have just one dessert option so it's luck of the draw - most that I heard of sounded great to me though.
I'm so glad we finally went to Caribe - we can get there without taking any major roads at all (aka University) but thankfully, light rail construction in our area is done so traffic isn't even a major issue like it was all spring/summer. I have heard awesome things about the brunch - they have several delicious sounding benedict options, so it'll probably be another one we hit up after I have this child - although Ben is already planning a return visit for lunch just to have the Cuban sandwich. It's debatable how kid friendly it is during dinner, but it would be fine during the day. It is a really cute place that's different from the usual spots - I highly recommend giving it a try!
Erin struggled to find a place to go out to eat for her birthday this year, as we find ourselves going to the same places over and over again when we go with Annie. It’s just easier to go someplace that we know is kid friendly, rather than tempting fate with an unknown location.
She got several good recommendations about Caribe on Raymond Ave. in Saint Paul, in the old Jay’s Cafe location. (We never made it to Jay’s before it closed, though we live about a mile away). We got reservations for six adults and a toddler and headed over on Tuesday night.
To say that Caribe is small is an understatement. I think there’s room for about twenty people total to eat at once. In spite of the small size it didn’t feel cramped, nor did I feel like I was intruding on the other tables’ conversations. The lighting was dim but, again, not in an annoying way.
The dinner menu is small and fit on one page and while I was salivating the prospect of their Cuban sandwich, that was only on their lunch menu :( That just ensures that we’ll be going back at least one more time. Erin had been eagerly anticipating the mango and cheese empanadillas and was devastated when he told us they were actually out of them. He also mentioned that they were out of two of their entrees as well, the mahi mahi (which I was considering ordering) and the shrimp (which Erin’s mom was considering ordering). It’s a little frustrating when they have a small menu to begin with and then they have several items that are unavailable.
Luckily there were still plenty of items to choose from, so we made it through unscathed. I was tempted to get one of the specials, but Erin was already going to order it, so she convinced me to get the Jamaican Rundown, a coconut stew with some vegetables and crab served over rice. We all ordered and then played the game of trying to keep Annie entertained until our food arrived. Erin had some gifts to open and with six adults it’s a little easier keep her occupied than when it’s just Erin and me.
Our food came out two people at a time, with a few minutes in between each serving. This was good and bad, because it gave a little confidence that the food was prepared fresh, but it also meant that the first people to get served were over half done with their dish by the time the last people got served, oh well. My stew was a good, hearty winter dish. It actually reminded me of a non-spicy Thai curry, but with crab meat. The serving size was not huge, but certainly enough to fill you up. I thought Erin’s dish was better than mine and since she couldn’t finish hers I had ample opportunity to compare the two. In addition to hers tasting better, it was also the more interesting dish of the two, as mine was soup, more or less :)
I enjoyed our dinner at Caribe and will be going back for sure to try their Cuban sandwich. I would also be tempted to go back on a Wednesday night as it’s half price bottles of wine. I think this would definitely be a fun place to go without a kid next time.
Service: Our server was friendly and knowledgeable, just wish he would have told us what wasn’t available right away.
Food: Delicious food that is freshly prepared.
Drinks: Decent beer and wine list and half price bottles on Wednesday.
Ambiance: Despite the small size that I normally don’t care for, I really liked the ambiance, it was nice.
Convenience: Just north of University on Raymond, it’s probably much better now that the light rail construction has subsided.
Caribe Caribbean Bistro
791 Raymond Ave.