October 20th, 2014
Miami’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel has been keeping a secret since March, though not for much longer. Twenty-five steps down from the lobby and sitting directly underneath Azul, La Mar by Peruvian chef extraordinaire, TV personality, entrepreneur, and author Gastón Acurio is quickly becoming a South Florida favorite. Peruvian born, Diego Oka, has already worked at other La Mar locations: Lima, Peru; Bogota, Colombia; and San Francisco, CA. This time around, the power duo is doing it big in Miami. Sure, South Florida has had an explosion of Peruvian restaurants in the last 5 years, but I’m not complaining. This Cuban girl loves Peruvian food. La Mar’s concept is different; the restaurant describes its cuisine as “upscale novo-Andean fare to Asian-Peruvian fusion and traditional seafood cebiche.” As Executive Chef, Oka is free to be creative in the kitchen despite the long-distance relationship with Acurio. He adds “I always consult with him and of course, he also gives us really cool ideas. We work together and he is always informed. Teamwork!” They chose to go with the “B” cebiche spelling on the menus instead of the more common ceviche or seviche because (as he jokingly puts it) “B is for Bueno!” Yes! Bueno it is! La Mar’s elegant interiors, designed with a contemporary flair, feel chic and inviting. Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline as your backdrop aren’t too shabby either. Day or night, rain or shine, the view is definitively also part of the experience.
One look at the menu and I was initially overwhelmed, so many good choices! I could not make up my mind. Luckily, since then, I have already tried many of the dishes. Here are some of the highlights:
To begin dinner, yuca chips, accompanied with a simple and addicting yellow pepper sauce are brought to the table. To drink, I almost always have wine I bring with me. The corkage fee is a steep $50.00, but worth it if you are as picky as I am about wine. While my wine decants, I like to order a cocktail off the menu. The guava pisco and chilcano de pisco have consistently been great choices.
A good way to dive right in is to order the cebiche sampler. The tuna is always my favorite of the three (fluke, calamari/shrimp/snapper and tuna). Another great dish is the plancha anticuchera: octopus, calamari, white corn, and chimichurri. These two starters took me on a tour of Peruvian flavors right from the get go.
My top three, must-have entrees are the fideos machos, lamb chop seco, and the lomo saltado. The grilled Colorado lamb is always tender and oh so flavorful. It sits atop an anticuchera sauce with carrots, peas, cannelloni beans, and brings La Mar’s staple rice with choclo on the side. This simple, traditional rice is addicting; I always order some to go! I tried to get Chef Oka to admit there’s a secret ingredient. Apparently, there isn’t, but he agrees it’s a crowd pleaser. “Everybody loves it!” exclaimed Chef Oka. “It’s very simple. Just water, salt, a little garlic, and that’s it. But, you have to cook it the right time, not more, not less, 40 minutes exact, so the rice is whole and not broken and cooked in the middle.” The lomo is a stir fried angus beef tossed with red onions, tomatoes, soy sauce, cilantro and papas fritas. By far, the winning dish here is the fideos machos. Fideos are squid ink pasta noodles topped with scallops, calamari, grouper, choclo, and the very creamy lime rococo aioli. When I asked if he could please promise me the fideos machos would never leave the menu, Chef Oka laughed and obliged “Because you asked, we are not taking it off!” You are welcome, South Florida. I can die happy now.
You can’t dine here and not have dessert. Delicate alfajores filled, topped, or sprinkled with dulce de leche, lucuma, coffee, chocolate, and peanuts is what the cajita de alfajores variados is all about. This very sinful dessert is beautiful to look at and the sweetest way to end your dinner.
Led by gifted and skilled Diego Oka, La Mar by Gastón Acurio is a trendy yet casual, vivacious restaurant with unparalleled Miami city views, delivering outstanding food. I couldn’t help but ask Diego about his thoughts on his new Miami stomping grounds. He happily responds, “Every city that I have lived in before has something to offer, some more than others, but they always have something. What surprised me most is that Miami is not only South Beach. I was very happy that we have Art Districts, Wynwood, Midtown, etc. Also, that the food industry is growing a lot, you can find food, great concepts, and amazing chefs!” I couldn’t agree more Chef. I am so happy you brought your talents to
South Beach Miami. Bienvenido!