Back when I started making my list of interesting restaurants in city’s across the U.S. Ola Miami was one of the first ones I added. I was watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate for one of the first times, and the dish highlighted was a Fire and Ice ceviche. Having recently returned from Peru, known for their ceviche, I was excited to find a place that served it more in the Peruvian style than the fish dip that I had known as ceviche up until that time.
It only took about 12 months from the time Ola was added to my list until I had the opportunity to take my talents to South Beach (sadly we are talking my talents of standing around at a tradeshow and not my athletic prowess). I made plans to get to Ola about as quickly as possible. My flight got in at 7, and I would just go drop my bag off at the hotel and go get myself some ceviche! Except I forgot to adjust for time zone…I really got in at 10, and it was almost midnight before I was settled in. Ah…the best laid plans. Fortunately, I had the next night free of conference requirements, and was able to make my way over to Miami Beach for a much anticipated dinner.
After taking about 10 minutes to finally find a parking place, I made my way into Ola which is located in the Sanctuary Hotel. The retaurant is right up front with a bar back around the corner to the left. The place wasn’t full, but it was buzzing with energy. The decor was very much sleek and modern. I settled into one of the very comfortable stools around the bar, and started looking for my main course given I already knew what I was starting with. There were a lot of dishes that looked fantastic, which you would expect from a chef (Douglas Rodriguez) nominated for the James Beard award and described as the “Most important Latin Chef” by Zagat. But because of the current phase of P90X I’m in, I couldn’t really go with any of them (trying to have only 3 servings of protein). Ultimately I did something I never thought I would…I ordered the vegetarian dish!
With the Fire and Ice ceviche, I had really built it up in my head. This is going to be the most amazing dish ever, I’m so excited, I drove out of my way to get it! This is always a risky proposition because it could be very good, but still flop becaus the expectations are so high. And with the ceviche, the good news is that it didn’t flop, but it wasn’t quite the “OMG amazing!” that I was hoping for. From an overall flavor perspective, it was very good. The fish was nice and firm, yet tender and “cooked” wonderfully in lime juice. The acidity was such a great balance, and there was this great textural balance that came from the Asian pear granite (the ice) that it was served over. But if I am being a little critical, I missed the fire. Even though there were diced peppers, I didn’t get that little burn on the back of my tongue that I was expecting. And while the granita added a great cold and crunchy textural element, the first few bites didn’t have a ton of flavor. But, as I got further into the dish and it started to melt, it got progressively better to the point that I had to stop myself from picking up my bowl and trying to slurp up the last few drops.
After my ceviche dish had been whisked away, a small plate with two small, round pieces of bread appeared. The bartender told me it was the pan d’bono, and described it as a cheese bread. I think a more apt description would be little balls of bready heaven. These were so soft and moist, with a hint of sweetness that practically melted in my mouth. They weren’t cheesy in that there were strands of melty cheese…rather it was incorporated into the batter to give it that texture. I only took one bite at first, wanting to nurse them a little given I knew two was going to be my limit (I’m fairly certain these don’t land anywhere in the P90X diet plan).
Fortunately I was saved from my mental tug-o’-war with the bread by the arrival of my Piconono. This dish is a roulade of plantain that has been stuffed with zucchini, spinach, peppers and a little bit of parmesan cheese. The whole thing is topped with a fresh tomato sauce. The presentation was absolutely beautiful, and until my first bite, I thought that it was served on a plate that had been painted with this interesting green and brown stripes. Turns out it was a plain white plate and what I thought was simply design was this light and delicious black bean sauce. The whole thing has this wonderful balance with some earthiness from the zucchini and sweetness of the tomato sauce. The plantain was firm and a little starchy and there was just a hint of heat from the peppers. If this is what all vegetarian dishes are like, I could definitely get on board with it.
I finished up by taking my remaining pieces of pan d’bono and using it to sop up as much of the sauces still on my plate as I could. The meal as a whole was wonderful, and I think fairly P90x friendly. Ceviche in lime with an Asian pear granita is a great way to get protein and a little fruit with virtually no fat. And while I’m sure that there was some cream incorporated into the tomato sauce, the rest was fresh well cooked vegetables and sauces. It was a great way to combine healthy vegetables and strong flavors without disguising them with fatty and processed things. The bread? Well, it wasn’t processed, and was fresh, and was a bit of a treat to myself.
As luck would have it, I have a second trip to Miami coming up, and I fully intended on better planning during the day so I can try some things like the smoked marlin tacos or the rum cured salmon or any of the other delicious looking options on the menu. And while I was a tad disappointed I didn’t get quite the heat out of the ceviche I wanted, everything else was so good that I absolutely have to recommend you check it out if you find yourself in Miami on the hunt for top notch Nuevo Latin food.