Your eyes will show you my face, but it’s your mind that will tell you my story.
Imagine an illusion so poignant that it blurs the lines of visual consciousness, outdoorsy interiors, and surreal glamor. The air is a mix of salty sea water breezes, and a voyeur-esque, promiscuous fervor. Which is precisely what happened on a night at Art Basel when I ventured off the path of South Beach Miami and into Downtown, perched at the edge of the towering Mandarin Oriental at a Peruvian hotspot with an accomplice who had a penchant for strong cocktails and light bites.
The spot was La Mar by acclaimed chef Gastón Acurio, who offered a cuisine I was relatively less familiar with. Peruvian gastronomy had an illustrious sound to it, owing to my rub against its ethnic styles at NYFW. With an ambiance that overlooked the glinting stars of the night sky and the skyline of the Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, I tasted the freshest of cuisines and with unexpectedly strong speciality cocktails.
The drinks commenced with a pair that dazzled us beneath the starry skies, with a light breeze blowing more than intentions into our eyes. The Maracuya sour constituted of porton acholado, passion fruit puree, lime, egg whites, triple sec and peychaud’s bitters, with a tangy passion fruit taste glazing over the eyes like beachy dreams. The guava sour by comparison was sweeter, with a nod to my favorite tropical fruit, and essentially quite similar: porton pisco acholado, guava puree, lime, egg whites, triple sec, peychaud’s bitters. With the clinking of cocktail glasses and a daze of a luscious holiday, the Peruvian paradise commenced, giving our happy brains quite the exercise while pronouncing the dishes and ingredients!
Peruvian culture is known to adapt healthy bites without compromising on tastes, which is why the dishes generally had superfoods and nutritious elements at the forefront. The quinoa caprese was made of heirloom tomatoes, basil, red quinoa, burrata cheese, all of which was drenched in a spicy aji amarillo pepper vinaigrette. The crackling quinoa was in stark contrast to the juicy burst of tomato and the creamy cheese, all of which was splendidly spiced up in every bite. With but an inkling of its Italian roots with basil and cheese, this was a remix I could devour for years.
The causa salad was like art on the plate, what with pink and green and yellow hues shining forward in colorful glory. Beets, artichokes, Peruvian asparagus, piquillo peppers and avocado were draped like lovers over a yellow potato causa. The bitterness of the vegetables juxtaposed beautifully against the sweetness of the potato, once again with an undertone of Latin spice that brought the whole dish together, both in terms of a flavor and a texture variety.
A side of Peruvian asparagus was the chef’s recommendation, what with the skinny diet friendly vegetables being a mainstay in that Miami beach body aspiration. These were drenched in aji amarillo pepper potato cream, topped with garlic chips and bathed in botija olive aioli. While quite a simple treatment, the elevated crunch had a flavorful hint of garlic and olive oil that rendered it a sumptuous healthy snack of all time.
With so many healthy bites and succulent views, we mandated a double dose of indulgent desserts, quite on trend with my previous endeavors.
Los picarones were a traditional crispy soft sweet potato and pumpkin fritter, which looked quite like a mix of an Indian dessert and a doughnut. With spice being a key mainstay in Peruvian cuisine, I was thrilled with the side of spiced honey sauce. For the densely fried sweet and fibrous fritter had found its marriage-able match in an instantaneously sweet and massively spicy sauce. I crackled my way through a punch of chili, dancing in fine tuned salsa in my mouth.
My favorite bite of the night though was the el chocolate y la lucuma. What arrived looked like a bed of immaculate textural gravel, which was in fact fortunato chocolate mousse, caramelized andean grains and quinoa, topped with a loop of dark chocolate and lucuma fruit and and guanabana sorbet. The colors of the dish were almost like a terrain of the night, with glistening sunlight in the form of sorbet. The sheer crunch of the healthy grains were the perfect textural balance to a velvety mousse. And while I would have enjoyed these even in their isolation owing to the dark chocolate undertones, the fruity sorbet cut the indulgence with a palette cleansing finish that left me licking my lips for love and more.
And at such times, its best if the camera clicks shut and the iPhone reverts to being merely a phone. Miami, you are made of dreams.