BOSTON – One thing can be said about Cuban food in the city. Well, technically, three things. It’s cheap. It’s plentiful. And it’s absolutely lacking in any sense of pretense or affectation. What you see from the Old Havana or Miami will definitively be what you get. And what you get is the reason why you’ve been coming here—weekly—for the past twenty years.

Three things that can be said about the COJE Management Group? The hospitality firm behind Yvonne’s and Lolita? They’re about design. They’re about image. And ultimately, they’re about self absorption in their own facade. It’s easy to be dazzled by style, stylized cultural tropes and a vain appeal to the sensibilities of Back Bay faux-sofisticados looking to make the most of their “really wild night out.” It’s a lot harder to look at your $18 mahi mahi taco or $9 slab of cornbread before realizing that behind the smoke and mirrors are just going to be more smoke and mirrors. In fact, endless smoke and mirrors.

What happens when the former meets the latter? Mariel, which opened earlier this week inside (because, of course) a former bank in Post Office Square. And El Oriental it apparently ain’t.

For one thing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen either plantain gnocchi or whatever constitutes “street” pizza on the menu at El Oriental. And I’m not really certain if hoisin barbecue lamb belly is authentically Cuban. And I don’t know anyone who would pay $85 for a plate of pernil.

“When you think about it, Post Office Square is one of the most beautiful parks in Boston and to be able to open up on to that is incredible,” COJE principal Chris Jamison told recently. “I hope Mariel becomes an integral part of this neighborhood and injects a bit of life and vibrancy to the area that otherwise tends to dissipate after happy hour and on the weekends.”

“I didn’t expect to be so blown away by the architecture; I wasn’t ready for that,” Jamison continued, referring to a recent trip to Havana which inspired the concept. “The European style and beauty of the architecture of Havana really struck us and we knew we wanted to incorporate that worn, decayed elegance into the design of Mariel.”

I’m not certain if chandeliers, potted palms and bank lobbies necessarily constitute as “worn decayed elegance” (is there a portrait in your attic you’re not telling us about, Chris?) And I’m not certain if the pre-revolutionary motif you’re so dutifully striving for is a naive yearning for the Battista regime—a regime responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000 people. But hey… you can’t really go wrong with $14 mojitos.

On second thought, you probably could. Like I said, smoke and mirrors. Endlessly self reflecting.

Mariel is located at 10 Post Office Square and is open daily from 5:00 pm - 2:00 am. For more information, visit Mariel

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash