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"Without the freedom to criticize, there is no worthy praise." Beaumarchais
Dining at Mosaico in the heart of Brickell is exciting and challenging.
It's Spanish cuisine is seeped in tradition and Chefs Jordi Vallès and Gonzalo Jurado make a point of how satisfying simplicity can be by showing its sophistication
By Simone Zarmati Diament
The grand old building that was once a firehouse has magic. Everything speaks of Spain from the moment you step onto the mosaic floor of Salero, the busy street-level bar serving traditional cold and hot tapas. When you get to the second floor, you are transported to a chic Madrid restaurant dining room that leads to an elegant, white-sofa'ed terrace with a neon-lit view of Downtown's sky scrapers.
Mosaico's comforting sense of timelessness makes you feel like you belong there.
Recreating traditional dishes
Old world service at the hands of experienced waiters and a young manager and sommelier is refreshing and sets the mood for the feast to come: traditional Spanish food that is actually exciting and challenging. Rediscover the familiar dishes in a different guise: a mini cuttlefish burger nested in a little brioche bun is served with a pungent romesco sauce and a reduction of balsamic vinegar. Typical of Sevilla, the gazpacho andaluz ($11) here is a velvety soup of freshly picked garden tomatoes at their best, fragrant with basil infused olive oil and smoothed with sherry vinegar, with the contrasting texture of deep red tuna tartare bacon crisps and a poached quail egg.
Chef de cuisine Gonzalo Jurado caught our attention with accents from his hometown Sevilla, in the South of Spain: cumins, spices and fresh yet humble ingredients prepared into sumptuous dishes. Like the Cucumber soup. A simple yet much more refined version of the Greek Tzatziki with cool, fresh cucumber undiluted by the frozen tomato grated into the plate and a dollop of sour cream, the cold soup comes alive with the zing of lemon rind and mint. And, oh, surprise! In the middle floats a round of toasted brioche topped with crab. The chefs' own concept of the peasant dish brandade de morue is a potato cannelloni stuffed with bacalao ($12) and topped with sautéed baby calamari in a futuristic-looking circle of black squid ink and red piquillo pepper pil-pil--a traditional Basque sauce made from different peppers. While visually dramatic, it was bland in texture and taste. But Sommelier Alejandro Ortiz's insistence that we at least try a flight of Sherries: fino, manzanilla, amontillado and oloroso, paid off. These quintessential Spanish white wines do pair well with these foods.
You need talent to create a simple dish that hits the core of taste memory.
The day's special was mini ravioli stuffed with a hearty beef stew over a bed of fresh mushroom ragoût flanking fried quail eggs nesting on onion confit ($14 for two people). "My mother used to make these incredible fried eggs over fried onions, and that's the taste I was looking for," recalls Mr. Jurado. He recreates the comfort food of his childhood sifting through years of culinary experience with the most famous chefs of Spain (Ferrán Adria of El Bullí, Santi Santamaria at Praco de Canfabes in Barcelona, La Broche, in Mexico). The egg melts in your mouth as its blends with the sweet confit of onion, while the earthy beef and mushroom transcend mere pleasure.
Entrées transcend mere pleasure It is with typical dishes like Arroz Caldoso ($27), that the kitchen shines most. A superb paella of pearly al dente rice, soupy with a seafood broth of complex flavors, is richly topped with sautéed scallops, carabineros --the sweet-fleshed prawns from the Mediterranean, and a perfectly cooked lobster tail.
Earthy ingredients are daringly combined with fish. Like a grilled Yellow Tail snapper over grilled pencil asparagus over Idiazábal rice ($25). The rice cooks in cream infused with the sheep cheese from the Basque country, which imparts a distinctive smoky taste that melds divinely with the grilled flavor of the flaky, moist fish.
More humble ingredients show off the chef's elegant use of spices and hearty flavors in a concept of earth and sea, surf and turf. Grouper cooked en papillote with olive oil, tomato and basil and served over a parmentier of whipped fingerling potatoes is garnished with a thick, earthy sauce of pork stew, melt in your mouth garbanzos and morcilla or blood sausage.
Boneless oven-roasted turbot ($27) with artichokes in two textures -- tempura and crispy flash fried in olive oil, is paired with sautéed mushrooms and sobrasada essence, a thick, rich sauce of beef bones broth, port and wine, reduced to an essence, traditionally used with red meat, that is spiked with lemongrass to complement the white fish.
Lechón or suckling pig is a masterpiece ($25). Not adulterated by marinade, the pork is steamed and then roasted, its crispy skin a taut mahogany lacquered with a reduction of orange and citrus oil. It comes with a confit of rosemary, thyme and garlic next to tender potato cylinders stuffed with surprisingly fresh and spicy green pea purée and gindilla, a green pepper.
Meats are equally enticing: beef cheeks slowly braised and falling off the fork rest over a bed of lentil ragoût with garlic and salsify cream ($28); perfectly grilled filet mignon ($32) is served with earthy garbanzos and cumin Swiss chard steeped in aged sherry.
Cheeses and desserts a must The tray of cheeses alone is worth a visit to Mosaico, at any time of day or night. ($3 for a 2 oz. portion, or $12 for a tray of up to 6 cheeses). Put together by Sommelier Ortiz, they vary. Ours was a tray of Goat cheese from Oregon served with candied nuts; Vermont shepherd - a sheep milk cheese; a soft Pau from Catalonia served with serrano ham crisps; Garmondo from Extremadura a cheese smoked over applewood; and a Blue cheese from California served with dehydrated apple cones. Cheese heaven!
And even though every meals ends with Pastry chef Michelle Menotti's splendid version of petit fours: sour apple cone with apple foam; a tiny coffee flan topped with coffee gelatin; almond and fennel cookies, a glorified snickers bar with peanuts, dark chocolate and toffee, don't give up the desserts.
Desserts leave nothing to chance: Pasty chef Menotti came up with an extraordinary dessert version of the mojito cocktail: Rum mojito gelatin with mind granité and lemon foam.
In Spain churros are finger shaped fried dough traditionally dipped in chocolate. At Mosaico, the chocolate churros ($8.50) are sumptuous. At the first bite, the little round beignets ooze warm bitter chocolate tempered by a scoop of turrón ice cream topped with the crunch of caramelized nuts and a sail of crispy phyllo dough.
Chefs Jordi Vallès and Gonzalo Jurado try to make a point of how satisfying simplicity can be by showing its sophistication.