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"Without the freedom to criticize, there is no worthy praise." Beaumarchais
La Marea at the Tides Hotel, South Beach
Chef Gonzalo Rivera produces dishes that crisscross borders and time zones; from the Asian-influenced North East Coast to California, Michoacán and South Florida
He is a magician with the combination of flavors and ingredients. A meal at La Marea in the chic Tides Hotel, South Beach is a treat worth braving the Ocean Drive crowds over and over again.
by Simone Zarmati Diament
On any night, the sidewalk on Ocean Drive pounds with loud music and teams with people strolling and eating under bright lights and umbrellas. And then you stumble on an oasis. The pace is leisurely, the lights are so soft that you can see the moon from the terrace of The Tides Hotel where people lounge or are sitting at the Coral Bar eating delicious things brought by courteous waiters in uniforms the color of sand. rich
The sense of pleasant elegance follows you up in the lobby and into the unassuming yet stylish indoor restaurant La Marea where a vast selection of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. You may think that La Marea just opened because it hasn’t made a splash, but like the tide after which it is named, it has come and gone many times and is now hopefully here to stay.
Once you get over the visual impact of rows of shield-like turtle and tortoise shells along two walls – “they’re not real” smiled the hostess reassuringly – and the pile of desiccated driftwood (I didn’t ask if they were real) separating the dining room from the lobby, everything is calm and harmony. Inside the restaurant, the blond and teak wood tables are set with white dishes over which slabs of shiny agate stone press the white napkins, the service is attentive, and the menus and your choice of water are brought immediately. The wine list is wide-ranged, cost-conscious and supplemented by exotic cocktails, spirits and liqueurs. We settled for a very affordable Familia Zuccardi Q Malbec 2006 from Argentina, an award winner that would pair well with the different dishes that we were planning to order.
The executive chef at La Marea, Gonzalo Rivera, a long time protégé of famed chef Michael Mina, put together menus for lunch and dinner at the indoor/outdoor La Marea -- and a bar menu for Coral Bar. His dishes crisscross borders and time zones; from the North East Coast with its definite Asian influence and California where he served six years as executive chef at Mina’s Nemi Restaurant, and Baja California where he was born to Michoacán, Mexico where he fell in love with the food, the culture and his wife during a trip to Mexico and to South Florida where he now works. “My Mexican roots definitely play a part in my food,” he says of his market-driven creations. He has made deep connections with local fishermen for the seafood and fish and with growers in the Redlands for the produce that find their way to the table.
As a result, any time you hit the menu you are sure to have a terrific meal.
We started off with a basket of grilled Naan bread accompanied by three delicious dips: raita, the refreshing Indian yogurt, mint and cucumber dip; harissa, the Moroccan chile-based hot sauce and piquant chipotle hummus, a marriage of Mexico and the Middle East. The dish, the palette of a virtuoso, set the tone for the meal.
Then came the Acapulco prawn cocktail. Huge, meaty and sweet gulf prawns set over an amazingly complex, delicate yet pungent cold tomato broth spiked with fragrant cilantro, piquant siracha and rocoto (Peruvian pepper), and studded with diced Haas avocados. A dish to die for. So were the plump, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pan-roasted diver scallops drizzled with an intensely citrussy shiro miso lemongrass and maple syrup glaze in layers and layers of tastes mingling happily with the bed of succotash with winter pea shoots they were set upon.
Three Australian Wagyu beef sliders, delicious beef patties set over soft brioche bread with melted sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce and fried red onions turned out to be a highlight of the menu and could satisfyingly be it, for lunch or dinner.
We ordered Tuna Tartare from a Crudo menu rife with delicious-sounding ceviches, fresh-from-the-sea oysters, beef tartare and hamachi salad. It was the only dish that evening which I found wanting from an unusual combination of high quality diced toro with sweet Medjool dates, harissa, almonds and preserved lemon, as if the ingredients were at odds with each other.
Sublime, original Caesar salad
But then, oh, the Caesar salad was sublime! I’ve never had one that was prettier, was more original or tasted better. Stacked crispy and sweet baby hearts of romaine dressed with a Caesar parmesan and kalamata olive dressing, topped with a crouton on which nestled boquerones, the little Spanish fish that are popped in the mouth whole, and framed by a Kalamata and green olive tapenade studded with whole caperberries. Give it to me anytime. A fabulous creation!
What could top the superb appetizers and salad? Pasta of course! A generous serving of home made silky tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, red pearl onion jam, Humboldt Fog cheese with grayish-blue streaks running through its white, chalky center in a poricini velouté is a treat. There’s an Asian-inspired udon noodles served with miso-glazed black grouper, coriander scented broth and bok choy succotash.
But since the restaurant’s theme is the sea and the tide, we had to have the fish he had bought that morning from the fishermen off Biscayne Bay. Florida Yellow Tail snapper, moist and tender-fleshed, is wrapped in a yerba buena leaf and while a tad over-steamed it was delicious served over jasmine rice with edamame and snap peas and drizzled with a chili lime vinaigrette.
Meats don’t stay back stage and the kitchen performance soared with the melt-in-your-mouth American Kobe Short ribs braised for eight hours and served over creamy grits. Tart tasting broccolini cut through the richness of both meat and grits and drizzled with a deep red wine glaze. The colorado rack of lamb was cooked to order and balanced to perfection with a cinnamon and dried Bing cherry quinoa salad and a goat cheese stuffed zucchini blossom, all painted with dark mole sauce. Again a crisscross of American flavors!
While sides are reasonably priced ($6) -- sautéed spinach, grilled asparagus, sautéed broccolini, BBQ fries and sautéed wild mushrooms – why bother to order them when each dish is deeply satisfying with a wealth of well-balanced ingredients?
They provide comfort and surprise, delight and amusement like the piping hot buñuelos – fried pâte à choux, hollow inside, sprinkled with sugar and accompanied with strips of sweet and fragrant caramelized mango, over light and acidic tamarind coulis and a freshly made luscious Mexican vanilla bean ice cream. A dessert to come back for, definitely. There’s a caramelized banana tarte Tatin with maple sugar ice cream you need to plan for before you order several dishes, because it is so filling.
The staff highly recommended the chocolate lava cake purse with nutella, hazelnut brittle and expresso ice cream – for which we took a rain check, as well as the key lime crème brûlée with tapioca coconut sauce and tropical fruit salad. The menu lists a make your own sundae with a choice of three toppings.
Chef Gonzalo Rivera is a magician with the combination of flavors and ingredients and the well-trained and pleasant staff does honor to his skills. A meal at La Marea in the chic Tides Hotel, South Beach is a treat worth braving the Ocean Drive crowds over and over again.