Rye y Su Son Sonete at Amor Cubano

Our bellies were already full with delicious cuchifritos and our bags were already heavy with new music, but before heading back towards the 6 train, we decided to see what was happening along Third Avenue. It was a good thing we did. In a storefront near 111th Street, we noticed a small stage being prepared with congas, amps, and mics. Why hadn't we noticed this before? The place was Amor Cubano and we couldn't resist its warm colors and friendly face. Everyone inside was smiling and seemed genuinely happy to see us—as if we were old friends or family. Black and white portraits lined the exposed-brick walls, soft white candlelight danced everywhere, and the large bamboo blades of ceiling fans spun quietly overhead. We were just in time. We sat at the bar while the band primed the stage.

After happily taking our order—two Presidentes—Julio, who seemed to be the restaurant's owner, showed us around. He was happy and proud. All of the small tables were covered in soft white cotton, the floors were tiled just like at my grandmother's house in Puerto Rico, and, in the romantic back room, diners could relax and enjoy some privacy away from the music up front.

But we were here for the music. This is all still new to us, and our exploration has been focused mainly on New York City salsa and Cuban son from the late 1960s and early 1970s, so it's always a bit of a surprise to hear this music being played so well by such young musicians. Rye y Su Son Sonete blew us away. Ray Rodriguez sat in the center of the stage, his conga propped at his waist, keeping time and indulging the crowd with classics. When a woman from the bar boldly called out, "Guantanamera!," Ray sat back and laughed: "Que rico!" His strong, warm voice wonderfully conveyed the feeling of well-worn favorites such as "Cao Cao Mani Picao" and the absolutely lovely "Dos Gardenias," made popular by 1997's Buena Vista Social Club.

Each member of the band was spectacular. Panagiotis Andreou, native of Athens, Greece, played the electric bass with an ease that seemed almost magical, his hands displaying nearly no effort as they waltzed across the fretboard. Percussionist, Rafael Monteagudo of Havana, Cuba, struck blazing solos on the timbales and called out a clave that stunned just about everyone in the room. Afterwards, when we asked him about the odd rhythm, he bashfully confessed: "I can't explain it. Once you get it, you just get it." Perhaps most impressive, however, was Axel Tosca on the keys. He was dazzling. At times silky smooth, at times touched by jagged Eddie Palmieri-like edges, Tosca's playing seemed to motivate the band—several times throughout Rye's performance, Tosca, Andreou, and Monteagudo traded shots, jabbing at one another with playful solos that delighted the growing crowd. While watching and listening to Tosca, another pianist came to mind: the great Markolino Dimond, whose early collaborations with Willie Colon and later solo work (Brujeria, Beethoven’s V) remain vital and exciting. Incidentally, Tosca's bio includes arranger credits on the Chesky release, Xiomara.

Outside, small crowds gathered in the cold. Passers-by stopped to press their faces up against the foggy glass and peer inside, while others simply listened and laughed. Inside, people rose from the tables and began to dance. Julio danced, too.

"We're celebrating the grand opening of Amor Cubano!" Ray announced. And everyone clapped their hands.

We'll be sure to visit again soon—next time for the delicious food as much as for the excellent music. Rye y Su Son Sonete hope to play nightly. Amor Cubano is at 2018 Third Avenue, near 111th Street, in East Harlem, New York.

Remy's picture

I am sure the food is good, but who in their right mind pays $15.00 for picadillo? The price is certainly not for a real cuban to pay for....

James Rodriguez's picture

Amor Cubano is a quaint little place and a fine addtition to El Barrio. The food is OK but should be better given the price. Service is cordial and the staff is polite and eager to please. The house band ( Rye y Su Son Sonete ) was the main attraction of the evening. Check these guys out. You will not be disappointed.

Roxy's picture

I finally made it to "Amor Cubano" and was immediately "in Love"! The young lady that took care of us yesterday, Monday evening at about 7 pm was sweet and helpful with the food choice. Let me tell you that the Mojitos were Delicious but the food was Magnificent. It really felt cozy and I think I'm going to throw a nice little party there very soon!! By the way, Dessert if to die for, smooth and creamy!!

C. Sosa's picture

I had dinner last night with my husband at Amor Cubano. Immediatly we fell in love with this place. The hospitality of the staff and cooking of this place is amazing! I'm puertorican and my husband cuban and my he certainly felt right at home. I was sad at certain moment because he felt so homesick. Amor Cubano what a lovely place!