From the moment diners arrive at this oasis that is the Mandarin Oriental, greeted by colorful bamboo sticks at the entrance, to the moment diners depart through its orchid-filled lobby, dining at La Mar is a special experience. Somehow, even the liquid hand soap in the bathroom- spicy and complex- smells better than your average soap.
Attention to detail is critical to any successful restaurant and La Mar, filled with images and flavors of the sea, nails it beautifully. Employees at the Mandarin were extremely helpful, from the gentleman in the lobby who offered to take a photo in front of the water view, to the delightful waitress who made many suggestions on the menu.
The Miami Dining Examiner recently tried La Mar for Miami Spice on the recommendation of a friend. She brought her daughter, a former architecture student and hospitality major. The F.I.U. graduate was impressed at how the theme of the ocean at La Mar was carried out organically throughout the restaurant- from the bar’s aqua ceramic waves, to the scallop imprint decorating the menus.
La Mar is more casual and relaxed than its sister restaurant, Azul; however, both embrace images of the sea and are heavy on the seafood spectrum. At the helm of La Mar is renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio.
Greeted by name at the hostess stand, the Miami Dining Examiner was seated at a wood table, with multi colored place mats, channeling grass cloth roots. Comfortable aqua strapped chairs, reminiscent of beach chairs, gives diners the impression that meals at La Mar are a day at the beach.
For Miami Spice, diners got a choice of three courses, plus dessert. While browsing the menu, diners are offered banana chips to munch, with a spicy orange dipping sauce. Since there were two choices of each entrée for Miami Spice, the Miami Dining Examiner and her daughter, ordered one of each, thereby getting to sample all the available choices.
A nice glass of red or white wine was available with Miami Spice for $10. The vibe at La Mar is upbeat and chill, with jazz and Latin music playing overhead; seating is available inside and out.
The three dishes ordered came in a trio of deep ceramic bowls, presented on a wooden tray.
The burrata and quinoa appetizer was creamy and nutty, with sliced heirloom tomatoes making a light and flavorful dish. The standout appetizer, however was the popular Peruvian dish of ceviche. La Mar’s version tossed silky slices of raw salmon, with crunchy peanuts, crispy won tons and finished it off in a delicious, milky sauce. It was amazing.
“It’s a Peruvian specialty called leche de tigre,” explained our sweet, perky server, about the sauce. “It’s considered a hangover cure.”
Next up, in the center bowl, was escabeche- sliced fish with sliced onions, a hard boiled egg and garnished with sweet potato straws. The veal heart, while scary sounding, was actually the favorite dish of the two. It was a bit chewy, but had a good flavor; skewered and served in a spicy sauce, atop multi-hued baby potatoes and hominy, it was a different and delicious dish.
The main entrée of beef tenderloin was perfectly cooked. The slices of red-centered, tender beef were topped with a cilantro sauce and served atop a bed of white beans, with one baby carrot flanking the beef. It was garnished with sliced red onions and micro greens.
The Miami Dining Examiner’s dining companion ordered the spicy grouper. It was a white, flaky filet topped with a spicy red sauce. It was served over a bed of squid ink tagliatelle with peas in a creamy sauce. The pasta was al dente, the grouper moist and flaky, the sauce yummy. Diners would not go wrong ordering either of these dishes, but a slight edge goes to the grouper.
Although the Miami Dining Examiner was getting full, there was still dessert to eat, either a chocolate or fruit dish. The sublime, three-layered brownie came topped with a chocolate covered almond, to add a little crunch. The raspberry sorbet dessert was a work of art- the quenelle of sorbet was resting on fresh white and red raspberries, garnished with a spun sugar decoration and tiny flower. One taste of the sorbet revealed a warm spice, reminiscent of Thanksgiving. Aha! Ground cloves- a subtle touch that made it a little different than the norm.
And so it goes at La Mar- the little surprises, the balance of the dishes, the delicacy with which they are prepared; the flavors, textures and presentation are all spot on. Add to this, the beautiful location, seamless service and relaxing atmosphere and it all equates to- not just a lovely meal, but an experience to be savored. La Mar is Miami dining at its best.
La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental will be the Miami Dining Examiner’s number one choice for Miami Spice next year. August can’t come soon enough.