When I found out that there was a Gaston Acurio restaurant in Miami, I immediately made plans to dine there on my trip to the Magic City last month. I didn’t let the fact that it was located in the Mandarin Oriental hotel deter me (believe me when I say that the Mandarin is not my usual dining venue, so fish out of water feeling anyone?) or that I was breaking my “South Beach only” rule (I thought it would be great to go somewhere where everything I wanted and needed was within walking distance; a cab was needed to get to La Mar). No, it was Gaston Acurio, my new favorite chef, and I just had to go there.
The Mandarin Oriental in Miami is located on Brickell Key, a man-made island where only the poshest of the posh and richest of the rich live (no joking). It’s so exclusive that the residential portion of it is a gated community. Having never been inside a Mandarin Oriental before, yes, I did feel a tad “out of my league” even just walking the hallways. La Mar is a floor down from the uber chic lobby, offering both indoor and outdoor dining space. The restaurant also overlooks Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline and the view truly could not be beat. Our reservation was for 6:30 PM on a Saturday night and it was quite dead then but I suppose in a global, cutting edge city like Miami, people naturally eat later as is the custom in other countries.
While there are countless Peruvian restaurants in a city like Miami, none can offer the culinary ties that a Gaston Acurio restaurant can (he truly is Peru’s top chef and his name is known on a global scale). As Peruvian cuisine is extremely diverse, the menu at La Mar reflects this, featuring everything from the quintessential cebiche to Peruvian style Nigiri (thousands of Japanese immigrants came to Peru) to classic Peruvian favorites. While nearly all the items on the menu sounded amazing, I opted to do my own sampling so I could try as many things as possible, since I doubt Gaston Acurio will be bringing his name to the Spanish lacking city of Pittsburgh anytime soon.
We were given yucca chips to start. As yucca anything is a rarity in the Pittsburgh area, it was neat to nibble on these.
As my starter I opted to begin with the Causa Salad ($11) which consisted of beets, artichokes, Peruvian asparagus, piquillo peppers and avocado over a yellow potato causa. Causa is a prominent face in Peruvian cuisine and is a mashed yellow potato dumpling mixed with key lime, onion, chili and oil. It’s served cold so it does take a bit getting used to. It was’t bad but I definitely liked this the least of all the dishes I sampled that night.
For my “main courses” I ordered one of the anticuchos, a traditional Peruvian skewer from the anticucho grill. I selected the chicken one ($12) which featured free range chicken, potatoes, choclo (Peruvian corn), and ocopa sauce. This was delicious, but then again I always love the taste of grilled food. It was hard choosing but the Wagyu Beef skewer also sounded incredible.
I also ordered the empanada ($12) and this was honestly one of the best empanadas I have ever eaten. I think the fact that it featured a filling I had never had before, stewed pork adobo, definitely contributed to its unique and mouth watering taste.
D began by ordering the Conchitas ($14) which were seared scallops with lomo saltado sauce and topped with garlic chips and crispy sweet potato strings. I had a bite of them and at the risk of sounding repetitive, amazing…again.
For his main course he went with the Lomo Saltado ($31) which is one of Peru’s most famous dishes. We both had it while we were in Peru and nothing compares to the taste of stir fried Angus beef accompanied with vegetables that have been sauteed in soy sauce and cilantro. The potato wedges and rice are never a bad touch either.
All of the items on the dessert menu would have left even the pickiest of diners happy. It was beyond difficult in choosing just one (even with just doing starters for my meal I was still incredibly full), but we went with the El Pie de Limon ($11) which I thought was most fitting since we were in Florida after all. If you couldn’t do that translation, it means “lime pie” although our dessert was actually Key Lime mousse along with Key Lime cream, almond crumble, chicha morada sorbet (chicha morada is a purple corn drink which I just love), and Italian meringue. Heaven in a cup indeed.
Service was near perfect the entire meal and for a night it was incredibly special to dine in such deluxe ambiance. (Along with the deluxe diners, a table near ours ordered two bottles of wine with their meal along with four cocktails for the four people at it. I shudder to think of how much the alcohol alone cost.)
Dining at La Mar was our final activity in Miami and it truly provided a phenomenal finish, especially in the food department. If you ever have a chance to dine at a Gaston Acurio restaurant, no matter where it is in the world, simply do.
500 Brickell Key Drive | Miami, Florida | 33131