“Please don’t call them tapas,” requests the menu at Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square, Cambridge. “We globe trot!” Globe trot, time trot… Cuchi Cuchi is all over the place cuisine-wise and era-wise, but somehow they pull it off spectacularly. We arrived to an hour-long wait and managed to grab a tiny table at the edge of the crowded bar to try some cocktails and soak up the ambiance while we waited to dine. From authentic 1890s stained glass to a mannequin in sequins to a staff bedecked in cocktail dresses and wide-brimmed hats, Cuchi Cuchi gives off an air somewhere between Moulin Rouge boudoir and 20s speakeasy; Cuchi Cuchi’s website pins the inspiration as a mix of la belle époque (late 19th to early 20th century Europe) and the golden age of Hollywood (late 1920s to 1960s). Fun, crowded, and lively, it’s a great spot for a night out with friends if you don’t mind waiting for a table.
The massive cocktail menu is split into two sections, ‘Cuchi’ and ‘Vintage.’ We really enjoyed all the drinks we ordered, except for one – a margarita which several people at my table declared to be the worst margarita they had ever had. I particularly liked the Corpse Reviver, a gin-based classic with Lillet Blanc and absinthe. Most cocktails on the list incorporate hand-muddled fresh herbs and fruit.
Among the four of us, we covered a lot of ground on the menu. While all dishes were solidly good, two really stood out: the baby back ribs with apple fritters and the duck à l’orange crêpes with citrus and fennel vinaigrette. We had fortunately asked for two orders of the duck; there was no way we would have been satisfied sharing that one four ways. Another favorite of mine was the sizzling garlic shrimp, very similar to the gambas al ajillo at Dalí, Cuchi Cuchi’s mentor restaurant and one of the first to popularize tapas-style dining in the Boston area. We witnessed no fewer than six birthday celebrations during dinner,complete with tambourine playing and singing, also reminiscent of Dalí.
From small bites of tasty food to strong vintage cocktails to over-the-top decor, Cuchi Cuchi is extremely high energy. The lighting is moody and the ambient music – think Django-era jazz and such – fits perfectly. Boring date? There’s plenty hanging on the walls to keep you occupied. The Cuchi Cuchi website even devotes a very long page to detailing the design work and origins of the decorations, many of which were found in antique and vintage shops.
As we were leaving, a large group of adults in Pharoah and Cleopatra costumes entered. We weren’t sure quite what was going on, but Cuchi Cuchi is the type of place that allows for that type of fun. It’s perfect for a date, birthday party, friends’ night out, or virtually any other joyful special occasion.
Hours: Dinner, Sun to Wed 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Thurs to Sat until 11:00 p.m.; Bar until 12:30 a.m.