NYTimes: A Caribbean Sunset

December 24, 2006: THIS Christmas, in keeping with nearly a quarter century of tradition, Enrique Fernández will oversee the preparation of a Caribbean holiday meal at La Rosita, his down-home Cuban restaurant in Morningside Heights.
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There’s a pig to roast that for two days has been marinating, Cuban style, in a tangy mixture of orange and lime juice, white wine and herbs. There will be rice and beans, boiled yucca and Puerto Rican pasteles made of plantain and pork.

But while the food will be the same as in years past, this particular meal will be bittersweet, for this is La Rosita’s last Christmas. Come Jan. 1, this little slice of Cuba on Broadway and 108th Street will become just another part of New York’s past.

For Ronard Coombs, a 70-year-old Cuban émigré who has been coming to La Rosita since it opened, this is the last Christmas he will be able to stop by the restaurant for a hunk of roast pork, known as lechón, to complement his holiday meal at home.

“Every year I have the Gallego save three pounds for me,” said Mr. Coombs, using Mr. Fernández’s affectionate nickname among Cuban exiles; he is called El Gallego after Galicia, the area in northwestern Spain where Mr. Fernández, who is Cuban-born, grew up. “Next year I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Another Cuban émigré, 76-year-old René Ruballo, who arrived in the United States in 1954 and who lives around the corner from La Rosita, stops by almost daily for a quick cortadito — espresso with a splash of milk — and a generous helping of camaraderie. “It’s been a place where we all gather,” he said of La Rosita. “Where we argue about politics, sports, women, everything.”

But retirement has arrived at last for Mr. Fernández, a diminutive 77-year-old who speaks rapid-fire Spanish and whose brown eyes crinkle when he smiles. “I’m an old man,” he said. “I’ve been working for 70 years.” Add in the $18,000 monthly rent he pays for the restaurant, a figure that is constantly rising, not to mention a son, Eduardo, 42, who has helped in the restaurant for years but is ready to do something else, and the end of the institution becomes inevitable.

Over the years, La Rosita’s following has come to extend beyond Latinos. As the neighborhood has changed, legions of Columbia students and others in search of a good meal at a decent price have discovered the rice, beans and sheer soul of the unassuming place, which has tattered menus and a décor that features wood paneling and mirrored walls.

Among that group is Rob Morton, a 35-year-old filmmaker who began going to La Rosita a decade ago when he was a student at New York University. He visited the restaurant the other day with his 3-year-old daughter, Amelia, and some friends from out of town.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Mr. Morton said of the impending closing. “It’s our home away from home. Our Christmas card this year is of us eating at La Rosita.”

Sitting across the table from Mr. Morton were Matt and Lisa Clark, who lived in the neighborhood for five years before moving to Rockland County three years ago. The Clarks had gone so far as to pull their 6-year-old son, Ben, out of school that day to make one last pilgrimage to La Rosita for Ben’s favorite mango milkshake, and to say goodbye to Carmen Cruz, the waitress Ben calls abuelita — grandma.

“I just like it here,” said Ben, crunching on a fried plantain. “There’s no La Rosita in our town.”

Come a week from tomorrow, there won’t be one in New York, either.

December 24, 2006
Morningside Heights
On Upper Broadway, a Caribbean Sunset

By EMILY BRADY

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3 Responses to “NYTimes: A Caribbean Sunset”

  1. Tom Says:

    I wrote about La Rosita’s closing at my blog. Check it out at

    http://manofconstantleisure.blogspot.com/2007/01/as-la-rosita-goes-so-goes-morningside.html

    This is very sad.

  2. Antibush Says:

    Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? Is killing thousands of innocent civilians okay when you are doing a little government makeover?
    Our country is in debt until forever, we don’t have jobs, and we live in fear. We have invaded a country and been responsible for thousands of deaths.
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  3. DuffBruineede Says:

    It looks like you are a true expert. Did you study about the subject? hehe

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