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A bold move meant to challenge and please the tastes of the most demanding Nuevo Latino cuisine lovers
By Simone Zarmati Diament
Doug Rodriguez's cuisine, inspired by the Latin kaleidoscope of cultures and foods woven into Miami and New York's social fabric, has always made headlines. From the time the young Miami-born Cuban-American cooked up a storm of unusually creative Nuevo Latino dishes at Yucca in Coral Gables, to the peak of his success at Patria, then Chicama and Pipa in New York City, Chef Rodriguez's food has been at the heart of attention and controversy.
The prodigal son is back in Miami, with his very own OLA Miami restaurant in the up and coming Biscayne corridor. He dismantled the old 5601 and restored it to a New York concept of Latin chic. The huge two-story building is cleverly divided into smaller sections: an attractive bar, a Ceviche Room with a counter encasing a rectangular fountain, a community table and a showy glass-framed kitchen.
We ate upstairs, in the second floor atrium-like dining room at a table overlooking the ceviche fountain and the kitchen downstairs.
It takes daring to bring Nuevo Latino cuisine - which may be novel and exotic to New York palates - to an intrinsically Cuban and Latin town like Miami. But Mr. Rodriguez has never shied from a challenge.
At OLA Miami, he has surrounded himself with top people. With the help of Marketing Manager Peter Shrank, who brought life to the trendy nights of Tantra and Touch, he is attracting the young and beautiful with a jazzy selection of cocktails and Mojitos (all $10), and themed Thursdays of roast pork -- a staple of Cuban fare cooked in the Miami invention called the Caja China.
The Ceviche menu can compete with that of any high-end sushi bar for the variety, freshness and quality of the fish. But our Ahi Tuna reached superior levels of textures and perfectly balanced flavors. The sushi-like slices of raw fish are lightly seasoned with a soy ginger marinade, topped with avocado espuma, and served over a bed of fresh wakame-like crunchy seaweed salad. The Rainbow of Ceviche with three types of fish: diced Salmon, Tuna and Mahi, is marinated in white soy sauce, citrus juices, sesame seeds and cilantro.
It would take a few more visits to try all of the thirteen selections like Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche with roasted tomatoes, popcorn and corn nuts and a black Ceviche Mixto with calamari, baby octopus, shrimp, scallops and black conch served with a chili-lime and cilantro coulis and steamed potatoes huancaina-style.
Beautifully presented appetizers
Appetizers are hefty and you could make a meal out of each selection. Gazpacho was dramatically presented in a bowl set over a dish filled with ice with a side of flavorful crabmeat egg roll. Although of a perfect consistency, the classic cold tomato soup, finished with a splash of oregano coulis, was a touch too acid.
Served in their shell over a bed of thick sea salt, Oysters Rodriguez -- a take on Oysters Rockefeller - are delicately panko breaded oysters fried to plump perfection set over sautéed horseradish flavored spinach and an earthy fufu, a mash of sweet plantain. But the hucatay sauce -- a black Peruvian mint sauce, at once floral and herbaceous -- propels it into another dimension.
A brilliant dish that's hard to follow.
Especially by the Foie Gras and Fig Empanadas. The beautiful ring of anise-tasting half moons of crusty dough around a bush of frisée and watercress salad, is busily filled with a cloying mix of foie gras wrapped in too sweet almond fig cake, not mitigated by the salt of applewood scented duck serrano or the black trumpet vinaigrette
But then there is Corn Arepas, fried doughnut shaped polenta with a quail egg yolk in the center and an egg shaped serving of crème fraîche topped with osetra caviar; and Bacalaito Fritters; Kobe Beef meatballs with a callampa mushroom cream; and crisp phyllo pastry Goat Cheese wraps over Mache Salad with hazelnut vinaigrette.
Mr. Rodriguez's signature dish: Plantain-Crusted Mahi Mahi has been a hit since his early days a Yucca. Here it is deliciously crisp and moist, served with braised short rib beef stew and tomato escabeche.
Salmon cured with panela -- a rich dark sugar-- rum and vanilla enticingly caramelizes as it is seared. Full of flavor, it is balanced with creamy quinoa and a refreshing slaw of crunchy grated jicama mixed with black olive tapenade. As pleasing the side of gnocchi of malanga tastes heavenly with wild mushrooms.
No two accompaniments are alike and every dish calls for its own sides. A rustic and hearty dish, big enough for sharing, the Lamb Duo chops are perfectly cooked to order, but overpowered by a biting sauce. It is served with an enticing cazuela of raspado -caramelized crunchy rice - studded with thick chunks of tender, flavorful lamb, and fresh fava beans, raisins, pinenuts, and olives, all mixed at the table with aji and mint sauces.
Less interesting, Arroz Imperial is a pretty looking brick of yellow rice studded with peas and olives, with hints of horseradish and saffron, layered with crab meat lacking identity of its own. It is topped with brochettes of "Costar Rican" shrimp, rubbery textured and lost in a pungent sauce.
There are many more complex and unexpected combinations in Mr. Rodriguez's menu: Crackling Crispy Pork with a Nicaraguan vigoron salad, steamed yuca and marinated cabbage; Beef Tenderloin Churrasco with chimichurri, grilled asparagus and spicy crabmeat dressing; and grilles marinated chicken with roasted mushrooms and that divine malanga gnocchi...
Sweet Ends with panache
Mr. Rodriguez never offers anything that's predictable or just satisfying. That applies to desserts as well. Not to be missed is the famous Chocolate Cigar, a suggestive chocolate log of chocolate mousse and peanut nougat sprinkled with bitter cocoa powder and whimsically flanked with edible cookie dough matches and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
For the calorie-conscious, there is the sugar free Café con Leche, an intense mocha panacotta with macadamia cream and a vanilla tasting expresso foam in a parfait glass.
Aimed to please the sugar lover , Brazo Gitano is a rolled sheet of vanilla cake loaded with dulce de leche, untempered by a passion fruit granité or thin slivers of mango.
OLA Miami is a bold move that enables Mr. Rodriguez to rev up his creativity.