Burning Down the House


la-tazaWhen Daniel Brajkovich opened La Taza de Café in Montclair in 2004 , I knew we couldn’t keep him. His savory tapas and hot Latin Jazz were too big to contain in a small neighborhood restaurant. He needed a whole house.
Today, he’s bringing the house down with a Cuban café and club that’s so popular it’s often packed to the rafters. Of course, there’s the ever-changing weekly menu, from small plates with various combinations of grilled chops, plantains and spicy sauces to such platos grandes as garlic-studded slow-roasted pork and snapper almandine. Then there’s the dancing. Take a Saturday night this past summer, for example, when a room full of patrons paid $8 each to learn how to salsa. The instructors were the sexy dance duo of Garry Johnson (longtime dance teacher at Allegro Ballroom in Emeryville) and his partner, Viola Gonzales. As the lesson progressed, the warm yellow house at 3909 Grand Ave. (formerly the site of Autumn Moon restaurant) started to come alive. Women in sleek, sexy outfits and guys in cool cotton cabana shirts were pouring into the bar, the back room, the outside patio and two rooms upstairs.
The champagne mojitos started to flow and bodies pressed seductively against one another as the primal beat pumped through the halls. I could sense that something was about to explode—like spontaneous combustion from too much heat. And then it began; couples twirling in tandem to the intoxicating rhythm, as if they were dancing under a star-studded Havana sky.
It’s human nature to want what you cannot have. Cuba is off limits to most Americans, yet we have an insatiable urge to taste—to experience—if only for one passion-filled night. La Taza de Café answers the call.
La Taza de Café, 3909 Grand Ave., (510) 658-2373, is open Tue.–Sun. for tapas, dinner and dancing, and serves brunch 10 p.m.–2 p.m. Sun. For a schedule of dance lessons and entertainment see www.latazadecafe.com.


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