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[Phil Leff/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Maybe you think that a mojito isn't all that difficult to make -- a little rum, some mint, lime juice and presto, Cuban magic.

But at Cuba Libre, they take their mojitos seriously, and trust me, it's worth it.

For eight hours every day, two of Cuba Libre's employees' sole mission is to extract enough sugarcane juice to supply mojitos the whole night through. The tedious work is apparent upon first sip, as Cuba Libre's classic mojito ($8) is refreshing and potent, with a wonderful, sweet bite to it. Cuba Libre offers a variation on the standard with its Sandito Mojito ($8.50) -- a mojito dashed with watermelon juice. You won't ever go back to the improvised version at your local bar.

Cuba Libre also offers a wide array of liquors, boasting the city's most extensive and finest collection of rums. There are 62 options in total -- from the standard Bacardi to a Pedro Ximenez Spanish rum that smells of raisins and hazelnuts.

Cuba Libre's atmosphere is one of relaxed, elegant dining. The restaurant beckons its customers into its warm, dimly lit dining rooms and bar. The rich, dark wood of the interior is complemented by soft lighting and an inviting decor.

Cuba Libre 10 S. 2nd Street (215) 627-0666 Fare: Cuban $14-$20 Cuba comes to Old City with contemporary Cuban cuisine including Cuban coffee and rum.

But there is something seductive about the aura of Cuba Libre, drawing its patrons in to drink, eat and, on the weekends, do a little salsa dancing.

It's not the place for a quiet, romantic getaway but rather a spot for an evening of excitement and stimulation.

Large, wide fans slowly circle overhead, as patrons walk into Cuba Libre's high-ceiling dining room. The decorations are flamboyant and beautiful, as are the dishes that line tables throughout the room.

We began the evening with two aperitivos -- the black bean hummus ($7.50) and "Fire and Ice" ($11). The hummus was served handsomely with tropical chips.

The spread itself was lightly pureed and delicious.

The "Fire and Ice" dish was truly fabulous -- Honduran-style deviche of sushi grade tuna marinating in an exquisite coconut milk and lime sauce. Served in sliced coconut, the concoction was exceptional.

My companion ordered the ensalada del pais ($8.50), which paired greens tossed in a light vinaigrette with avocado, crisp queso and steamed yuca -- a root vegetable with potato-like flavor.

For our main courses, we dined on the ropa vieja ($18) and the pisto ($17). The ropa vieja was an enormous portion of tenderly marinated pork. The brisket is stewed with sweet peas, roasted pepper, red wine and onions and served with white rice. The meat was tender, juicy and bursting with wonderful flavors.

The pisto was a collection of fresh vegetables sauteed and served atop a twice-fried green plantain called patacon. Both meals were accompanied by a side order of maduros ($5) -- Cuba's famous fried plantains. Like the mojito, Cuba Libre does this staple well. The plantains were crispy on the outside, but once bitten, melted into a soft and sweet morsel for the mouth.

Finally, we moved on to the dessert menu, which was nearly as extensive as the main dinner menu. We sampled the arroz con leche de coco ($8) -- a coconut rice pudding topped with a passion fruit compote with caramel. We also tried the classic tres leches ($8). The vanilla sponge cake was soaked in a mixture of three milks, doused with vanilla icing and surrounded by a tropical fruit salsa.

Although both desserts were amazing, they were entirely outdone by the after-dinner drink selections. The Cafe Cuba Libre ($4) was essentially like any latte from Starbucks, except that the Cuban coffee was added to steamed coconut milk -- a delicious treat. We also tried the Cafe con Xocolati ($4) -- Cuban coffee fused with Mexican chocolate and topped with whipped cream.

In addition, we sipped on Cruzan Rum Cream, a sweet liquor that tastes similar to Bailey's Irish Cream, but made with rum. Both coffees were an excellent finale to an extraordinary meal. To finish off the night, checks are brought to the patrons in cigar boxes -- the appropriate ending to an evening filled with amazing rums, delicious food and a little glimpse into Havana.

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