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There’s more to Mariel, a new Cuban-inspired restaurant, than food and drinks. The chic eatery in Post Office Square is quickly carving out a scene where friends, partners, and co-workers gather to eat, laugh, and converse in a stunningly curated environment.
This vibrant social experience is what Mariel’s owners, COJE Management Group — the same team behind Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar, Ruka Restobar, and Yvonne’s — hope for. Chris Jamison, principal of COJE, told Boston.com he wants “Mariel to become an integral part of this neighborhood.”
The atmosphere feels like a slight nod to some of the paladares I visited in Havana. While there, some of the spots I dined at were outfitted with a unique kind of eclecticism and beauty augmented by flowers and plants. Like those memorable underground private restaurants, Mariel has its own flair. Here, elegance exists alongside whimsy. It’s hard not to notice the pineapples in the chandelier above the bar and matching wall sconces. To the left of the bar, the luminous dining room with washed blue shutters and greenery help mimic the indoor/outdoor spaces common in tropical climates. Bold murals from artists Sam Malpass and Julia Purinton depicting Cuba’s city scenes are on display in the dining area. In the wallpapered bathroom, monkeys smoke cigars and guzzle Havana Club rum.
Topping the cocktail menu, which also features beer and wine, are classic, strawberry, guava or lulo mojitos ($14) made with fresh mint pouring from metal buckets. I’m torn between ordering the guava or classic mojito, so a bartender suggests a pineapple daiquiri ($13) instead. The drink’s bright, fruity taste conjures up cheerful summer memories. For beverages without booze, Mariel has four jugos frescos ($8) including strawberry energy (strawberry, ginger, apple juice) and coco limeade (coconut water, coconut cream, lime juice). Both are delicious, but the latter pulls ahead as a winner.
COJE’s culinary director Tom Berry, who started his career at now-shuttered Blue Ginger, created the menu. Tim Kaimer, chef de cuisine at Mariel, manages the kitchen day-to-day.
At Mariel, the food is meant for sharing and showcases Caribbean staples like black-eyed peas, plantains, and yuca in inventive ways. For instance, black-eyed peas become fritters ($10), plantains transform into fufu (a starchy food typically made from cassava, yams, or plantains) gnocchi ($16), and yuca is used for cheese puffs ($10).
For lunch, try the blackened gulf shrimp ($24) atop a warm mound of pineapple fried yellow rice, vegetables, hoisin BBQ, pea greens, and ñam ñam sauce, a twist on the Japanese steakhouse yum yum sauce. To create it, butter, garlic and onions are cooked down. Next, the mixture is puréed with lime juice, lime zest, Matouk’s hot sauce, and mayonnaise. It’s satisfyingly sweet. There’s also a fufu-battered fish sandwich ($17) on a torta pierced with tiny Cuban flags. The entrée’s white sweet potato chips are dusted with a blend of salt, toasted ground cumin, Kashmiri chili, and Bijol condiment, a Cuban kitchen staple made from ground annatto, cumin, and corn flour. Other lunch options include chicken and grits, avocado grilled cheese, and a Cubano sandwich.
Enticing menu options abound, but don’t miss the congrí rice and beans. The savory small plate ($12) for dinner has pickled peppers, sweet plantains, garlic-lime butter, and cilantro. Covered in the fresh herb, the grains and legumes get a lift from the punchy peppers. Each bite explodes with flavor.
Craving sugar? Indulge in the coconut flan ($9) with pineapple asada, sour orange caramel, and crunchy coconut wonton noodles. The zippy sauce commands attention, and the crispy wontons partner perfectly with the creamy dessert. Coffee cheesecake with doughnuts, ice cream, and mango sour cream cake are also available.
Though the food at Mariel is worthy of repeat visits, it’s the vibe of the place coupled with delicious cocktails that beg patrons to linger and be seen. I’d go back in a heartbeat for drinks after work, a dinner date, or a night out. With reservations filling up, a buzzing bar scene, and queues of partygoers waiting to get in the restaurant’s underground club, it seems Mariel is hitting the mark.
Mariel; 10 Post Office Square, Boston; Mondays–Fridays from 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. and Saturdays–Sundays from 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; marielofficial.com.