Living in South Florida has many perks, but it can get pricey when dining out in the city. Luckily, I was able to experience a Miami Spice 3 course meal priced at just $23 per person, at La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Downtown Miami. Miami Spice is a once a year dining experience, in which top restaurants in Miami participate in from August 1st – September 30th.
It’s around this time of the year, that tourists (and locals like myself), take advantage of ordering from a curated discounted menu at these restaurants. The Mandarin is a very popular hotel down here, and being able to enjoy this lovely view, was also a real treat for me!
La Mar is a Peruvian cuisine restaurant, and is ran by the famous chef, Gaston Acurio. I grew up eating Peruvian food all of my life, so anywhere I go to eat it, I always judge a little bit harder. My family members are able to cook the most exquisite Peruvian cuisine right from their homes, so that’s where my biases kick in.
Taking a look at the Miami Spice menu at La Mar, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to enjoy not one, but three appetizers brought out to you automatically, along with a main course, dessert, and the choice of a bottle of wine. My only complaint on the beverage selection, was that you weren’t allowed to order just one glass of wine. That would be a bummer for someone dining out for a quick lunch, but not so much so for a couple or group of people.
The appetizers included small bites of a causa salad, cebiche chifa, and chicken anticucho in separate bowls. The causa salad consisted of sunchokes, crushed beets and asparagus, topped with a bit of avocado and huancaina sauce. Causa can be eaten warm or cold, and this causa was warm. I thought it was just right, and the flavors were a nice cleanser between the other two appetizers, which packed a punch in taste.
The cebiche chifa included a mixture of ginger-sesame sauce along with a soft piece of salmon, wonton strips and leche de tigre (lime juice) with cilantro to top it off. This was by far my favorite appetizer that I got to try. I was left intrigued with mystery, as to how the chefs cooked the salmon, where it literally melted in your mouth, and felt like jelly at the same time. It was absolutely delicious, and the citrus sauces brought out the flavors so much more! The appetizer I felt was just okay in my book, was the chicken anticucho.
Containing chicken thigh, confit potatoes, choclo (giant corn), and ocopa sauce, I felt the chicken was a bit on the burnt side. I think this was meant to add diversity to the flavors, but I just didn’t see the point of it to be honest. It felt like the “odd man out”. If it was cooked to a more medium level, then I probably wouldn’t have noticed how it didn’t fit in for me.
With not having ordered a $50 bottle of wine, I decided to have a non-Miami Spice drink, which was the Pisco Sour for $15. Pisco Sour is Peru’s national drink, and the one at La Mar consisted of a blend of barsol quebranta pisco, lime, egg white, and angostura bitters. I thought the drink was amazing. Not many restaurants make their pisco “easy to swallow”, as most are made to be bitter tasting. If you like a lighter tasting cocktail, that easily packs a punch at the end of one glass, this is the drink to order at La Mar. The fact that one glass is $15 was kind of lame, but it also left me not needing to order another one at the same time.
For the main course, you’re only allowed to choose one, and I chose the carapulcra. Carapulcra is technically a dry potato stew, with a side of white rice, red beans, and pork belly made to a crisp. This was such an amazing meal, and I feel that if you like the stew type of dishes, picking the carapulcra (anywhere you go) is your safest bet. I do want to comment, that the crispy pork belly was crispy on the outside, but once you tore into it, was completely soft on the inside.
This is something you find rarely with hispanic dishes, as pork chunks are usually crispy from the inside and out. I thought the way it was cooked, was very impressive. My only critique was that it could have used a little more salt. Nothing major, and none the less I would order this dish again, and again!
To top the experience off, I chose to eat the Peruvian dark chocolate cake. This savory pastry bite was made of lucuma mousse and orange caramel. It was so yummy, and for the first time I realized how well citrus fruits such as orange or tangerines, go well with dark chocolate. It truly brings out the flavors of each combination, and every bite was like heaven in your mouth.
All in all, this Miami Spice dining experience at La Mar was a success! If I had to rate everything from 1-5, I’d give it a good 4.8. I was impressed by the curated cuisines, but not impressed with the lack of deals on the drinks.
I’m happy I was able to go, and if you’re ever at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami, this is one restaurant you do not want to pass up! Until next time, have a great week!