They say that what happens in South Beach Miami stays there. But where the air is a mix of salty sea water breezes, luxury candlelit luminescence, and a voyeur-esque, promiscuous fervor, the Latin flair in a hidden nook of the beach front is too luscious to not be shared, albeit in privacy.
My Art Basel related escapes nudged me to exploring hidden crevices of the otherwise touristy ocean front, bringing me to OLA restaurant in Miami Beach. As an acronym for “Of Latin America”, Chefs Christopher Camacho and Carlos Castro brought Latin American flavors combined with thoughtful and flavorful gastronomy. While well known for its seafood and salty ocean fare, the fact that we were in fitness capital which dropped outfits by nightfall for psychedelic parties made it easy to nibble on vegetarian and vegan bits for myself.
It started with a handcrafted coconut mojito, a specialty of the Latino hot spot. With crusty nibbles of toasted coconut floating like boats on the top, it was tart and sweet at once, lusciously created to transcend geography into the beats of the world outside this intimate ambiance.
I commenced with an off-menu vegan dish which was a vertically designed salad comprising of shredded Brussel sprouts, cashews, grilled asparagus, warm spinach, golden raisins and pine nuts. Playing with both temperature and texture varieties, this was possibly one of the best salads I had devoured – with a tangy and sweet dressing owing to the bitterness and fruity components, the crunchy cooked Brussel sprouts married beautifully with the crunchy salty cashews and pine nuts, offset with the bitter asparagus. Gathering all the ingredients in a mouthful was indeed a siesta!
The Pionono arrived as a more gourmet, artistic design, almost mimicking the strings of a guitar for salsa music. It was a sweet plantain roulade stuffed with green and yellow zucchini, spinach, piquillo peppers and parmesan cheese, with the stripes made with homemade tomato and black bean sauce. While a tad on the heavier side, it was indeed steaming with aroma and flavor, owing to the mix of vegetables and the naturally salty cheese, which was a pleasant contrast to the spicy sweetness of the sauces.
The seductive ambiance was a charming prelude to a party night that I was itching to bounce into, so I saved room for one dessert, also courtesy of the aspiration of hitting the beach the next afternoon. I received a layered flan de queso ice cream, which arrived like a floral pink bowl that mandated three dimensional viewing. In the center was a pistachio cake topped with ice cream, a mixed berry salad, and surrounded by a very pink guava foam, with a hint of a balsamic reduction sauce. Gastronomy at its coolest, this was a clash of several flavors from varying regions that worked miraculously well. The almost delicate pistachio flavor was prominent against the tart fruits and ice cream, with the foam texture diluting the sweetness of the guava to the right level. The vinegar was an intriguing distraction, especially as it looked like chocolate, making this a sweet and savory dessert, and reminding me that this was a whimsical Latino departure, one meant to surprise, allure and seduce.
The ambiance in particular had a very calm and tranquil feel, very unlike the noisy Miami that most must be anticipating. And for that reason alone, I enjoyed a charming date that was inevitably succeeded with an unforgettable South Beach party.