Cuchi CuchiCambridge, MARestaurant
4.5 Star Restaurant (our ratings)
A sexy 1930s time warp, an adventure of food, wine, and fun
Review by Johnny Monsarrat
Thanks to paparazzi, Hollywood still has glamour but not the mystery of the 1920s, 1930s, or 1940s. That’s the theme behind Cuchi Cuchi, a restaurant with full bar where you not so much step back in time but step into another dimension: a sexualized, artistic landscape. It’s garish to an extreme, and even the servers wear costumes. You may, for example, see a waitress with a bowl of fruit on her head, and against one wall is a mannequin wearing the dance costume Catherine Zeta Jones wore in the movie Chicago. And she’s holding a fetish whip.
But it works. Below ceiling fans, the walls are hung with throwbacks whose colors and themes match. The tone is mellow, with 1930s music playing that even includes the original low-tech hiss. It’s dark, but not too dark to communicate or bring family, and at 6pm it’s nowhere near too noisy to speak. That’s important to me, a guy who likes to chat with my friends, dates, and family over dinner instead of just stare at them. It has 58 sit-down table seats, and 25 bar seats.
I spoke with Nereida Restrepo, the manager, who came from Colombia without speaking English at all to work at the nearby Green Street Grill, a place I used to frequent before they started serving macaroni and cheese. “I got into the restaurant business because I love people”, she told me, “and didn’t want to sit in an office. I made the switch to Cuchi Cuchi because it had everything I was looking for and more. It’s classy and so much fun.”
The place is garish to an extreme, but despite the costumes, it’s for adults. You could have a great bachelorette party here. That really hits home when you see their menu, with 4 pages of cocktails, wine, and beer. Nereida tells me that unlike many restaurants, where the owners never visit, at Cuchi Cuchi the owners are engaged and have a real vision that covers both the cuisine and the decor. They aren’t just trying to save money on food and staff. Before you eat, they serve you a hot towel which comes prepackaged and I hope is more than just water, which doesn’t sanitize.
The menu has an innovative concept: you make more money selling half-size plates. Although they don’t call it Spanish tapas, because the food comes from around the world, the concept is the same. You order 2 or 3 items per person and share with the people you’re with. The appetizer style dishes arrive appetizer swiftly, too. “The food is meant to be shared”, Nereida says, “with intense flavors.” They have a gluten-free menu, too, for those of you with wheat allergies.
Everything I had was delicious. The sizzling garlic shrimp ($10) was meaty and rich, without that limp, overcooked texture you sometimes find, in an interesting oil base. The fried artichoke hearts ($14) came breaded with a creamy interior of cheese and chopped pistachios. It had a paste texture but was juicy. The grilled skirt steak, Argentinan style, ($15) was invigorating, with a garlic sauce that makes you not want to share it with anyone.
The only misstep perhaps was the “Cuban Cigar”, shredded beef in a flaky dough package served piping hot, which came with beans in an alcohol mix that went way beyond the slight taste you get in a wine sauce. What is it with this place and alcohol? I thought. I don’t drink myself, but don’t normally have any trouble adapting.
Really, there was nothing ordinary on the menu, which reminded me of Not Your Average Joe’s. Every dish is severed with a different twist. For example, the chicken kiev ($14) was drier than I was expecting, with breading around hearty good chicken, a vegetable medley, and perhaps too much butter, but really good. The cheesecake was very citrusy, with what tasted like mango rind, not too rich, and tart as well as sweet — a great improvement over the Cheesecake Factory style which stomps on your heart with sugar and richness. And it came with an edible chocolate butterfly. The presentation on all the dishes was impressive.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a not too positive review of Casablanca and felt slightly guilty for accusing them of not having an compelling and unifying restaurant vision. Now I know I was right. Although it’s expensive, Cuchi Cuchi is a great place to hang out with friends, family, or on a date, and while I was there I saw people of all ages and types, not just 20-somethings. Although I cannot put Cuchi Cuchi in my “Dining Experience” tier, the top tier of reviews, I will gladly give them 4.5 out of 4.5 stars in the “Restaurant” tier.
795 Main St, Cambridge MA