Fried: Braised Beef Spring Rolls at Asia de Cuba

Look at the pretty cocktail!

By Sarah Fenske

I'm a sucker for good lighting.

I have certain thrifty friends who will take one look at the menu and back out of a restaurant, howling, "$28 for an entree?!?" Or, "$15 for a cocktail? What is this, highway robbery?!"? Not me. What gets me backing up and howling is fluorescent lighting. Hang some from your restaurant's ceiling and I am so not going in.

So I liked Asia de Cuba, the Asian/Cuban fusion joint at the Mondrian Scottsdale. Yes, I could accurately describe the décor as white with a touch of rooster. Yes, I was horrified that the kitchen's version of surf-and-turf costs $74. But with a schmancy Effen Cherry martini in front of me and a plate of $19.50 braised beef spring rolls, all I could think about was how fabulous the place looked. Even the old lady at the next table looked young and pretty in the room's soft white glow. No one in the place last night was quite up to the stereotypical "Scottsdale scene," but the ambiance certainly helped us all feel a bit better about it.

As for that braised beef spring roll, I wouldn't necessarily say it was worth $19.50. But it was damn good: The beef filling was so tender, it was practically a pot roast, complemented by the addition of peppers instead of carrots. I adored the black bean-and-papaya salsa, served on the side with a port wine reduction. And unlike the deep-fat-fried stuff I frequently find myself indulging in — hey, I am the "Fried" correspondent, after all — the crust was thin and crispy, not greasy. Three cheers for braising!

So I'll toss my frugal friends a bone and admit that maybe my appetizer wasn't $19.50 good — but it was definitely $15 good. And what's an extra $4? These days, it'll barely buy a gallon of gas.

Personally, I'd much rather spend my extra $4 on a swanky atmosphere — and really flattering lighting. I'm feeling pretty good about Asia de Cuba.

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