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LA DORADA

****

Address: 177 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables
Phone: 305-446-2002.
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday 11:30am- 3:30 pm/ 6:30- 11:30pm., and Sunday from noon- 9 p.m.
Cuisine: Spanish with accent on fresh fish and seafood
Ambiance: Casually elegant with live guitarist
Service: Impeccable and keenly helpful
Price Range: Appetizers, soups and salads: $10- $15; Mediterranean shellfish and grilled seafood: $15 to $45; entrées fish steaks and lobsters: $22 - $42; desserts: $8 - $10
Wines: An amazing list of Spanish and boutique wines, and a good choice of wines by the glass earned La Dorada a Wine Spectator Award in 2004.





















LA DORADA

More than 4,000 miles away from Spain, and seven years after it first opened in Coral Gables, it is better than ever and worth several visits. A gastronomic voyage through the bounty of the coast of Spain and the Mediterranean

By Simone Zarmati Diament


When was the last time you ate shell fish from the Mediterranean and from the North Atlantic coast of Spain? For some of us, it was a few years ago in Madrid at a seafood restaurant and tapas bar popular with the business crowd called La Dorada. We had known to go there because we had eaten in its Coral Gables counterpart when it first opened in Coral Gables.

More than 4,000 miles away from Spain, and seven years after we'd first eaten there, we found La Dorada better than ever with a new chef from Málaga- Rafael Muñoz, a solid management team headed by Beatriz Bajares and a 2004Wine Spectator Award.

This is the type of restaurant one fantasizes about when thinking of seafood and fish. These still are the trademark of the nautical themed Spanish restaurant as it was conceived by José Felix Cabeza, who owns other La Dorada restaurants in Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Paris, Casablanca and Marbella. In the soberly decorated location with authentic ship collectibles, port holes, a welcoming bar and gleaming dark wood floors, the key is turning simply fabulous seafood and fish flown-in from Spain into the essence of Spanish cuisine.

"Welcome Aboard," says the oversize menu worth several trips to La Dorada.. As it deploys like sails over the table, you know you're about to embark on a voyage through dishes truthful to the authentic cuisine of Spain, starting with all manners of small-fry from the Mediterranean fried in first press olive oil. A very well-priced Albariño accompanied our meal.

Small fry, big flavors

We ordered chanquetes and were brought a plate of what looked like French fries but were baby white fish (which you eat whole) fried in a light batter with a fried egg sunny-side up and a side of pimentitos asados or pepper ragout.

Then the waiter mixed everything to reveal an inimitable burst of flavors. Salmonetitos are perfectly fresh, gorgeous little red beauties, which you also eat whole; then there are tender calamari, boquerones or fresh anchovies, baby eels (if you're lucky); but since four of us wanted to try them all we shared a fritura Malagueña ($28), an assortment of all the above.

Salads are made with the freshest ingredients from the garden and from the sea and are delicious. They come with surprises such as a center of steamed Maine lobster, or tuna tartare, eels or boquerones.

Shellfish, seafood are a joy

But who wants salads when there's shellfish and seafood? Directly from Rias Baixas, Galicia, in the far northwest corner of Spain, from where Maitre D' Domingo Gandara hails from, the almejas in a light broth of garlic, parsley and olive oil are drizzled with Jerez Tio Pepe. The clams are kept in seawater and cooked live to maintain the flavor of the sea. And what a joy it is to sop the juices with a piece of bread… It makes for a meal in itself.

But then so do the coquinas, the baby clams steamed in white wine, garlic, olive oil and parsley. Simple. Fresh. Delicious with the healthy tang of pure elements, among which a side dish of fried eggplant rounds, sweet, soft and moist inside.

Crab, when in season, is another specialty of La Dorada. We treated ourselves with toasts piled high with Centolla, a species from the Cantabric Sea, before ordering an assortment of sweet-fleshed seared prawns and small lobsters: cigalas and carabineros, from the Mediterranean, so fresh they need not even a drizzle of lemon to enhance their delightful taste.

This is certainly worth a special visit or several visits to La Dorada.

Spectacular soups, paellas

One of the menu sections is devoted to soups ($11.50 to $14) and paellas ($40 to $ 42 for two).

Soups are well worth a try: from the delicious gazpacho made in the tradition of Andalucia with ripe tomatoes, onions, peppers, a touch of garlic, wet bread, olive oil, salt and vinegar - a perfect dish for summer, to the intensely seafaring, velvety crab bisque, with sweet chunks of Centolla, Dungeness and Spider crabs, spiked with a touch of Armagnac.

The exquisite Sopa de pescado y mariscos, is like a bouillabaisse: a thick broth of fish fumé with saffron full of chunks of fish, clams and seafood fragrant with anisette from a touch of Pernod. Spectacular!

Of course, it's impossible to sample it all in one meal. One must return for the paellas, the Catalán fideúa and the black rice paella, all very well-executed and generous portions brimming with seafood, fish and shellfish.

Indeed a voyage full of discovery.

Fish and more...

The restaurant is named after one of the fish on the menu-bream (dorada in Spanish. Like the lubina (wild striped seabass) and the Urta (all $29) the whole fish is baked in a wooden box with a mound of salt then filleted tableside, and is meant to be shared. The moist and flavorful fish are always top quality and are served with only extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and lemon, or with a homemade mayonnaise, and sides of stewed tomatoes, wilted spinach and baby potatoes.

Other specialties include lubina in a phyllo dough "papillotte" with julienne vegetables, grouper with champagne sauce, and hake baked with tomatoes and herbs; as well as a large listing of grilled fish. And In case you happen to want meat, you can choose from steak with green pepper sauce and pan-seared filet mignon to grilled lab or veal chops and steak tartare.

Desserts and cheeses

The Spanish are not too big on desserts, as they mostly tend to serve simple sweet endings. But try the honey sweet tocinillo del cielo, a wedge of melt-in-the mouth custard or the delicious tarta de manzanas, a caramelized apple tart tatin-like creation topped with a serving of vanilla ice cream and cinnamon over a base of puff pastry. Other desserts ($8 to $10) include a puff patry tulip filled with ice cream and forest fruit and the less fortunate profiterole - small cream puffs, with hot chocolate sauce.

Your best bet is a tray of cheeses from Spain ($14)for the whole table, like the smoky Idiazabal, the sheep cheese Roncal, the classic Manchego, and tetilla, followed by complimentary petits fours and a shot of Pachacón, a typical digestif from the North East of Spain.

In seven years, La Dorada in Coral Gables has never been better






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