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CHOW HOUND: Island time 

That stately two-story brick building at 289 Alexander Street, the one that most famously housed Lloyd's and most recently Benedettos, has had new life breathed into it by Havana Cabana, which bills itself as a Cuban café and rum bar. The latter is certainly accurate; the gorgeous bar boasts more than 40 different varieties of rum, which find their way into cocktails both modern and traditional, as well as flights for the connoisseur or merely the curious. The "Cuban" descriptor is also somewhat true, with flavors and inspiration coming from the whole of the Caribbean. But one look at Havana Cabana's inventive menu suggests that "café" might be a little modest...

click to enlarge The Cuban Harvest Paella at Havana Cabana. - PHOTO BY THOMAS J. DOOLEY
  • PHOTO BY THOMAS J. DOOLEY
  • The Cuban Harvest Paella at Havana Cabana.

"Resort casual" is how assistant general manager Micah Vitale describes Havana Cabana, its warm woods and earthy reds offset by splashes of tropical blue. And chef/co-owner Trey Yager's food keeps that island vibe going, with seafood lovers in particular finding much here to enjoy. Conch is on the menu, along with blue crab, shrimp, lobster, grouper, tilapia, mahi mahi, and a Cuban Harvest Paella ($25.95) starring bay scallops, shrimp, calamari, and clams, along with chorizo and chicken in an herbed sea broth.

Vegetarians and carnivores are both covered; the Island Toasts — essentially a pizza made with an authentic Cuban dough — are available in versions both meatless and meatful, while entrées include jerk pork loin in a blackberry-rum barbecue sauce ($18.95), along with Chef Yager's tricked-out version of the Cuban classic vaca frita ($23.95). There are also soups and salads for those looking to keep things light (and save room for rum).

Havana Cabana is located at 289 Alexander Street. It is open Wed-Thu 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Prices range from $3.95-$34.95. For more information, call 232-1333, or visit havanacabanaroc.com.

Quick bites

"Coffee should be as black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love," according to Turkish proverb, and anyone tempted by those requirements may want to stop by the Turkish Cultural Center of Rochester, 2692 Dewey Ave., at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 21, for Turkish Coffee Night, an evening of art, music, and food. The event is free; visit tccrochester.com for details.

Congratulations to Rochester's first grain-to-glass craft distillery, Black Button Distilling, which recently hit a $20,000 Kickstarter goal that will enable head distiller Jason Barrett and Co. to put up multiple barrels of bourbon for aging. But the fundraising continues, with stretch goals to produce more complex spirits. You want in? The campaign ends at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 21; visit blackbuttondistilling.com to learn more.

Saturday, November 23, the Philippine Dance Company of Rochester will collect money for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan through a spaghetti-dinner fundraiser at the Messiah Lutheran Church, 4301 Mt. Read Blvd. Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for ages 5-8, and free to the under-5 set. Donations of clothing, medicine, and groceries will also be gratefully accepted; call 489-3645 or 414-6312 for information and tickets.

The 21st Amendment ending Prohibition passed 80 years ago, and The Revelry (1290 University Ave.) plans to mark the occasion with a Repeal Day celebration on Wednesday, December 4, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Period dress is required for the bash, which will feature vintage cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and burlesque. All-inclusive tickets are $100; call 340-6454 for details, or visit therevelryroc.com.

Dinner at Julia Restaurant Nights provide students in the Culinary Arts Program at Canandaigua's Finger Lakes Community College with real-world food-service experience. They also offer diners the opportunity to indulge in a Julia Child-inspired meal by tomorrow's chefs at the bargain price of $35, including tax and tip, for five courses. (A selection of wines is available for purchase, or bring your own for a $10 corkage fee.) Past menus have focused on the flavors of Provence and Normandy as well as our own Mid-Atlantic Coast. The final dinners of the season will be held on two upcoming Fridays, November 22 and December 13; visit flcc.edu for a menu preview, or call 785-1444 for reservations.

Hey, do you know the difference between a French star and a closed star? There's still a little time to register for the Just 4U Cake Decorating Competition and Holiday Expo, going down 11 a.m-5 p.m. on Saturday, December 7, at the Theatre on the Ridge, 500 W. Ridge Road, in front of judges like acclaimed pastry chef Gale Gand and "Cupcake Wars" winner Heather Saffer of local Dollop fame. Get more details, along with registration info and tickets, at abh4uproductions.wix.com/events.

They're gonna party like it's 1929 at Scotland Yard Pub (187 St. Paul St.), which will transform itself into an illicit nightspot for its annual Prohibition Party on Saturday, December 7, at 8 p.m. And as with any proper speakeasy, you'll need the secret password, so email nancy@ scotlandyardpub.com to get it, and visit scotlandyardpub.com to learn more.

Openings

260 North Winton Road, formerly the retail arm of The Ravioli Shop, is now home to Pasta Chef To Go, a take-out place specializing in Italian soups, panini, and pasta dishes. Gluten-free pasta is available, along with limited delivery; check out the menu at pastacheftogo.com, or call 244-2433.

Heads up, downtown! You've got two new eateries. On the west side of the river is Sapori Café & Catering (325-3507, sapori-rochester.com), now open in the historic Powers Building, 16 W. Main St., and serving breakfast items along with soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and fresh baked goods. And recently debuted on the west side of the river is Aunt Rosie's, 350 E. Main St., where you can score antipasto selections, brick-oven pizza, pasta, hot and cold sandwiches, and desserts. Call 713-1470 for more info, or visit Aunt Rosie's Facebook page.

Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to food@rochester-citynews.com.

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