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Tom Sietsema: Free to be brash and loud, Cuba Libre needs more flavor

WASHINGTON, DC-DECEMBER 28: Cuba Libre Restaurant. (Photo by Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC-DECEMBER 28: Cuba Libre Restaurant. (Photo by Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post) (Scott Suchman - For The Washington Post)
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The peppery sirloin steak, served at dinner, is anything but. A bed of steamed black kale and fluffy-centered yuca fries keep the dish balanced.

The menu devotes a full page to drinks, and although mojitos get the most attention, I've found those cocktails to be light on the fuel. The mai tai is a pleasant surprise; it's fruity and potent but not too sweet.

Entering Cuba Libre, paved in fake stone and lush with tall plants, is like walking into a big block party in the tropics -- or an idealized foreign courtyard a la Disney. Tall street lamps divide bar from dining room, and you half-expect someone to pop out from behind the shuttered windows or appear on one of the slim, wrought-iron balconies that dress the faux second-story residences.

I've rarely had a meal here without a side of laryngitis; the owners are trying to address the problem with $30,000 worth of sound absorbers.

Cuba Libre looks like a place for tourists -- and too often lives down to that archetype.

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One star (Satisfactory)

Cuba Libre

801 Ninth St. NW. 202-408-1600. CubaLibreRestaurant.com.

Open: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 4 to 11 p.m. daily; brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Major credit cards accepted. Valet after 5 p.m. $12.

Metro: Chinatown/Gallery Place.

Prices: Appetizers $5 to $12.50, lunch entrees $12 to $16.50; dinner entrees $16 to $26.50.

Sound check: 83 decibels/Extremely loud.


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