Friday, January 21, 2011

Pour Some Cayena On Me

It is nearly impossible to come by good Latin American food on The Rock. Local Latinophiles craving some spice generally visit one of the many Mexican restaurants (actually more Tex-Mex than real Mex) that range from lousy (El Pueblo) to just okay (Los Bandidos in Agia Napa or Aztecas in Old Lefkosia), or one of the few Cuban bars that have recently sprung across the island. There used to be a Brazilian churrascaria in Pafos but it failed to even vaguely remind me of my childhood's Sunday lunches in Rio de Janeiro. So during one of my unfocused schizophrenic Saturday morning drives through Nicosia in search of novelty, I was shocked pleasantly surprised to come across Cayena, a Latin Fusion restaurant just a stone's throw away from the American Embassy.

Last Saturday, I dragged the Wife, Ph.D., and my ORC (Official Review Crew) -- Mike Demo and the Godmother -- to give it a go. As you enter, what first captures your attention is the restaurant's sleek, minimalist and chic design. Straight lines, fluorescent lights, windows for walls, and shades of gray and brown dominate. We sat in a booth-like table set in the middle of the room, which gave us a refreshing sense of privacy. The music consisted of down-tempo electronic, jazz and a wide array of Latin rhythms, and added plenty of warmth to the space.

The menu included the usual suspects (fajitas, chimichangas and steaks) and a few more innovative dishes (for Cypriot standards) such as moqueca, a seafood stewed in coconut milk, tomatoes and aceite de dende (palm oil), Argentine empanadas and fish cebiche. Many of the boldest items like mondongo (a tripe soup), bollos (a sort of stuffed corn cake) and matahambre (a stuffed rolled flank steak from Argentina) had been scratched out from the menu, probably a result of The Rock's rather conservative palate. The wine list was decent enough, and we settled for Gaia's 2009 Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini, a wonderful wine with citrus, floral, sea salt and honeysuckle notes, lively acidity and good length. Definitely the best vintage of Thalassitis I have ever tried in my short and rather uninspiring career as a wannabe wino.

We ordered nachos, stewed mushrooms and the empanadas as appetizers, the Wife, Ph.D. chose the seafood risotto as a main and I went with the moqueca. Mike Demo wanted the cebiche but I told him that my home-made version is pretty darn good (it's healthy to once in a while toot your own horn) and that I would be happy to make it for him. In all honesty, I adapted my recipe from Diane Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, my Holy (Cooking) Book along with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Claudia Roden's Arabesque: A taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon.

In any case, shortly thereafter the food landed on our table and we dug in. The empanada's filling was quite tasty--lean ground beef with sweet (raisins) and savory (olives) flavors--but the dough (thick and bread-y) was better suited for a Cypriot cheese pie. The chimichurri sauce, however, was runny and bland, nothing like the rich, oily and spicy marinade made in Argentina. I could have done without the mushrooms, which came submerged in what seemed to be a tomato and cream sauce with some crispy tortilla chips. The nachos consisted of Doritos topped with melted cheese, a cop-out if you ask me. According to the Wife, Ph.D., a nacho connoisseur par excellence, "memorable" nachos should be served with chilli, re-fried beans, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, melted cheese, and fresh salsa. The seafood risotto was properly cooked and creamy but meager when it came to actual chunks of fish, shrimp and other marine invertebrates. The moqueca, jam-packed white fish, fresh salmon (?!?) and shrimp, was overwhelmed by a tomato cream sauce not unlike that served with the mushroom starter. Besides the seafood, the key to a good moqueca (at least the Bahia one) is the coconut milk and palm oil, two ingredients that were hardly discernible in Cayena's version. The fried yucca (cassava) that accompanied the fish stew added some Latin flair to the dish, though I would have preferred if they had been a tad thinner and crispier.

Overall, the food, though not truly authentic (or "Fusion" for that matter) and most definitely adapted to better suit The Rock's culinary preferences, was solid enough to merit a repeat visit. Next time, however, I will go for that sexy chimichanga that spent most of its short existence ogling me from a nearby table and later that night haunted my sleep.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 3 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas


Just me said...

I recently visited Cayena as well but I cannot agree to all your points.

First, let me say that 6 of us visited the restaurant on a weekday evening when there were another 5-6 tables at the moment. We ordered a variety of appetizers as well different dishes. One of us ordered fajitas. After we had our appetizers 5 out of the 6 dishes arrived and we were told that the fajitas was on the way!!!
After we waited for 10 minutes the 5 of us had to start eating since our food would cold. The fajitas came after another 10 minutes after the 5 of us nearly finished their food. Totally unacceptable.

Going further, even if we accept that this was a one-off mistake, I did not find the different tastes good enough to justify a repeat visit. The steak I had was just average whereas the fajitas which I had the chance of trying were lagging of other Mexican restaurants. The Los Bandidos ones are still no.1 in Cyprus.

Finally, I think the prices are on the high side and I would expect a new comer to the food market would price their menu a bit lower.

Overall, I do not think this is a "must try" place as it is just average. I would prefer spending elsewhere my money for food.

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Dear Just Me,

I agree with you in terms of the "average-ness" of the restaurant. I did rate it a 3 out of 5. And I don't think my review posits that the food is brilliant or that the service was impeccable. However, I would be willing to give it another try, maybe because of the ambiance or the fact that it reminds me a bit of home... Thanks for your comment and happy eating!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mateo
I had visited Cayena Restaurant recently and I have to say that I have a diffrent idea about it.I tried the fajitas and I have to tell that it was one of the best I ever had. I have tried Los Bandidos fajitas which are half the size of the Cayena's and the taste is much much better. The quality of the food does not compare to any other. My opinion is the Cayena Restaurant is one of the best restaurants in CYPRUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Dear Anonymous,

I will keep that in mind for my next visit. I did not have the fajitas the night we went so I look forward to giving them a shot. Thanks for the input!

Just Me said...

Dear Anonymous,

The Los Bandidos fajitas is not smaller than cayena and please note that in such restaurants, size does not so much matter so your point about portion size is invalid. If I wanted a big big portion or sth like that I would chose to have meze to another place-Not Cayena anyway!

I still have my reservations about quality of Cayena (which I visited 2-3 times just to be fair at it) and, by one visit you cannot say that it is one of the best restaurants in Cyprus. Are you the owner or something?

Georgia said...

I visited cayena 3 times and I had fajitas that was excellent. So I am objective. I don't know the owner but are you connected to Los Bandidos? Because in fajitas the meat is supposed to be mixed are seared with bell peppers, green and yellow along with onions and other spices. Did you see any of these in Los Bandidos Fajita?.....just a paper thin peace of meat (marinated with tenderiser) on top of a bunch of saute onions... Lets be serious

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

I think this merits a visit to both Los Bandidos and Cayena to compare the fajitas. I will write about it and let you know what I think. And I am definitely enjoying the conversation!

Anonymous said...

well Just Me, i just came across your comments on different sites, one of them is
same comment (copied and pasted) as here, but with different dates, so when did you visit Cayena exactly??
trying to do a favor for Los Banditos:) ???

Anonymous said...

Please Fajitas in AZDECAS IS 22 EURO AND in EL TORITO 24 EURO! GIVE ME A BREAK "just me"!!!! AT CAYENA IS 18 EURO

Just Me said...

Well, it seems that Cayena owners are well organised in terms of technology and search around internet!

Dear Anonymous (or should I say Dark Wings), I do not recall the exact dates of my visits since I do not try to play the role of Sherlock Holmes like you do. If you read carefully my comments to the blog you refer to, I do not mention Los Bandidos at ALL. It is YOU who mention it. And comments are only SIMILAR because they describe my experience to your restaurant and does not differentiate to where I write to.

I will not continue this discussion because it gives value to your restaurant which for me it´s crap. At least accept and respect an opinion!

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous,

My comments are similar because my experience to your restaurant is unique. If you read my comments to the other blog you refer to, I do NOT mention by name any resturant so where did you see Los Bandidos? The fact that you know the prices of all these restaurants makes me suspicious of your true motives and your identity.

I am a food lover and share my experiences by writing once every then to blogs and pages I enjoy reading.

And if you want to talk by names....
My name is John Menelaou
e-mail me at
If you like, give me your contact details and we can talk on the phone or even by e-mail of my experience.

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Dear Readers,

As "owner" of this blog, I have truly enjoyed all of the back-and-forth and I am honored so many of you have tuned in to my writing. However, I would greatly appreciate it if we continued this discussion in a civil manner and kept the accusations to a minimum.

With that said, I will soon be planning a "Fajita Showdown" between Cayena and Los Bandidos and I will let you know my thoughts. May the best fajita win. Happy eating!

Angelos Angelides said...

Dear Mr Menelaou,
My name is Angelos Angelides.I am the owner of Cayena restaurant and i just happen to read this conversation here.I will only point out that you can have your opinion which can be objective or subjective depending on motives and experience.anyway our restaurant is usually full and apreciated by many people.Some things are numbers and you make a fool of yourself doubting them.My price for fajita is lower than others in nicosia.Also in my restaurant one can have a main course for 13-17 euro which if you consider high..i have nothing to say.of course if you go for black angus steaks, shrimps, campaign etc..nobody is giving it to you for free and you can compare the prices. Finally, as a chance to sort this out in a civized manner and avoid lawsuits for slander(since you characterised my establishment 'crap' in puplic )i would be willing to discuss your points either personally or over the phone.the number is 22777787

Anonymous said...

Just Me

do not take it personal, read what you wrote previousley then youll get to know where did I get the Los Bandidos from, unless if you copied the comment from your bosses over there without reading it.


Anonymous said...

Dear Just Me

I truly cant understand why are you saying my restaurant, to clarify this matter, I am a regular guest and a true foody.
I disagree with what you said, that you did not mention any name or restaurant, in fact you said literally (I had the chance of trying were lagging of other Mexican restaurants. The Los Bandidos ones are still no.1 in Cyprus.) and that now you denied it, further more, using the word crap in evaluating a restaurant is way unprofessional. I agree with the Mateo for tasting both fajita's, will be looking forward to read a real honest feedback.
by the way, keep fighting and get more personal I am really enjoying it....

Unknown said...

OK guys,

I am sorry for the word "crap" which I recall. You can replace it with the words "hardly average" which describes my opinion for this establishment. If you think by attacking me and trying to make impressions will change my mind ...sorry.

Sorry to Mateo as well because I trully attempted to make an honest review based on my experience which I wanted to share. Besides, we both agreed of the "averageness" of the restaurant. Obviously these people lost pace possibly in their attempt to attract clients, when instead of writing opinions attempted to gasp anyone with a different opinion. And yes, here I mentioned the name of another restaurant but in the other blog I mentioned no name in order to avoid been accused of favouring anyone.

I am honestly very sorry. I wish good business to Mr. Angelides but not by my friends and family.

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Dear Readers,

Obviously, this forum is open to everyone. I allow people to comment on my posts because we all have our own opinions and I believe these should be voiced, regardless of whether they are for or against an establishment (or my mediocre writing, for that matter).

So I hope John's apology settles this matter and we can move on. However, if this continues, I will be unfortunately forced to remove all comments to my review of Cayena, something, trust me, I do not want to resort to.

Thanks and happy eating!

Mark Windworth said...

Having no plans, we decided to give Cayena a shot.

going through the menu, it was surprisingly different then what we used to get in regular restaurants. without going through deep details, the menu was done in a very smart and elegant manners, with starters as Tapas and salads section which we found it quiet rich.
The main is based on four categories, Fish, Meat, Classics, and Grill serving Black Angus and Veal steaks, then ending with kids menu and desserts.

Staff are very friendly and helpful. we were welcomed from the main door by a smiley hostess, whom escalated us to our booked table.
few seconds, the waiter came asking for our drinks orders, the he introduced the Chef's Specials, along side with the main menu. The waiter informed us that all food is cooked from fresh, and the Bread is home made.

I ordered the signature Fajita, while my family chose fish with coconut, Brazilian fejoada, and veal steaks.

Not to mention a full restaurant on a Saturday night, our food arrived in 15 min exactly (perfect timing)

My signature Fajita was a combination of duck, prawns and beef, the plate arrived on a girdle skillet which was steaming hot apparently, with a fragrant smoke that lasted for few minuets, the meat was super tender and the prawns were cooked just to perfection.

Internal design is modern to complex, with the combination of shadowed lights and Latin music, gave the restaurant a true warmth feeling.

regarding prices, well I cant say its cheap, however it worth every penny to spend for such a quality and high standards.

we strongly recommend Cayena for true foodies, and we will definitely go back again.

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the comment. It's nice to know that you had a good experience at Cayena. Maybe I went too early into their life as a restaurant here in Cyprus - sometimes it's best to allow restaurants to work through their initial jitters before fully judging them.

I've also heard from other people that they have changed chefs and that their service and overall quality has improved substantially. I will definitely check them out again and see about that feijoada, one of my favorite childhoof dishes.

Happy eating.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mateo,

I was just interested whether you have checked again this restaurant. I am looking for a special place to take my g/f to propose and was considering it. Howeever, from what I read at various sites is that the quality of food and services have significantly deteriorated over the past months even if the atmosphere is still good.

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yes, I've heard it's deteriorated since Chef Malcolm Emmanueil left in January of this year, and I recently checked their menu and saw a significant change to what was on offer before. For example, they no longer serve some of the Brazilian dishes I loved on previous visits. For the sake of the blog, I might visit them a third time to see what's up.

If I had to propose to The Wife, Ph.D., a second time and had to pick a restaurant in Nicosia, without a doubt, I'd pick 1900 Oinou Melathron in Old Leukosia. Expensive but a very romantic setting with great food. Here's a link to its page.

Good luck with the proposal and happy drinking!

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