Fusion With a View

Buena Vista at the Lakeside offers Latin for lovers.

Brambles run rampant behind rows of parked vehicles, some of which are here just for the evening, while others are settling in for the night. As a traveler on dreary North Northlake Way, you expect the lumber warehouse, the teriyaki joint, and the looming pile of rust that puts the gasworks in Gasworks Park. You would never dream that right here on North Northlake Way you could enjoy the sunset while sipping a mojito on a spotless sandy beach with Lake Union rippling mere inches from your toes. Between chain links and weeds, where Caterarts once struggled to make a profit, a "Cuban Creole" restaurant called Buena Vista at the Lakeside has emerged as a relaxing spot to drink and dine. A dock stretches from the back patio, providing parking for happy-hour boaters, or a promenade for dining lovers to stroll between courses. And some of the indoor seating, primarily on the second story, rivals Gasworks Park as a place from which to view Seattle. If Caribbean escapism on an unsightly street is not juxtaposition enough, the cuisine itself may differ from the expectations of diners who have never ventured to Cuba for dinner: Your food will not come wrapped in a tortilla, nor does it feature Cajun-spiced charred meat. Spain's old-world occupation of Cuba may have opened the fragile country to a few unwanted visitors, but exploitation produced some good grub, influenced by European, African and Caribbean flavors. Cuban Creole cuisine is not spicy but savory; think of it as colonial fusion, pioneering by a few centuries the wave of American restaurants now taking poetic license with traditional foods. Chef Maritza Texeira, formerly of Cactus and Gitano, chose to meld her nueva latina cooking style with a Cuban Creole menu because she felt Seattleites might be more familiar with Cuban culture than that of her native land, Puerto Rico. The result of Texeira's fusion of fusion is a richness that Cuba's traditionally mild dishes don't extend to. Camarones criollos ($9.95) features shrimp bathing in a thick, spicy cream sauce. One of the restaurants finest offerings is the moros y cristianos con ropa vieja (lunch $11.95/ dinner $17.95). Never mind the name (it translates as "Christians and Moors with old clothes"—ask your server, but be warned, it's a long story). The beef and red bell peppers are juicy vessels of oregano and sun-dried-tomato flavoring, while the black beans and rice provide a complementary textural foundation. By comparison, ajiaco criollo, a hearty stew of tender beef, pork, chicken, and sausage paired with yucca and tarot root (lunch $11.95/ dinner $18.95), is somewhat anticlimactic, even if it is Cuba's national dish. As if fusion of food weren't enough, Buena Vista is also a fusion of performance art. Latin jazz, samba, bossa nova, and tango regularly enhance the experience, and true to what may be a no-culture-left-behind policy, the Buena Vista transforms into an all-American hip-hop nightclub after 10 p.m. on Fridays. A blend of oddly successful couplings—Puerto Rican influences on French-African-Caribbean food, hip-hop and bossa nova under the same roof, and fine cuisine beside a dreary street—suggest that if you fuse, you'll never lose. epage@seattleweekly.com Buena Vista at the Lakeside, 2501 N. Northlake Way, 206-547-0774, NORTH LAKE UNION. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. seven days a week; weekend entertainment until 2 a.m.

 
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