Saturday, January 8, 2011

Soleá (Miami Beach, Florida)

W South Hotel
2201 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 938-3111

It was raining, the lush smell of moist plants heavy on the cool evening air. We'd just shivered through a round of cocktails on the outdoor patio of the hotel lounge (while feeding the mosquitos a round of cocktails, in turn) and we were tired after wandering around Miami Beach on foot all day. So by dint of inertia, we ended up in Soleá for dinner, a Spanish restaurant tucked away on the first floor of the W South Hotel.

The restaurant, which was nominated for the James Beard Best New Restaurant award this past year (when Marc Vidal was still there; he is no longer), is resplendent in gold light, airy white curtains and buttery leather. The soaring ceilings and lighting remind me a bit of Del Posto in New York, but there's an element of casual, here, that there isn't, there. During our recent dinner, a little girl played with her toy car on the smooth, slate floor, while her mother dined nearby with a friend. The vibe aims to be elegant, but not stiff.

Our starter of Salpicón De Pulpo: octopus, fingerling potato, micro greens and sherry vinaigrette was an attractively plated dish and it could have knocked our socks off had it not been for the mediocre execution. The dish was served far too cold, and the pulpo and potatoes were unfortunately a bit bland. They'd been combined just before serving and the vinaigrette hadn't had time to work its way into the other ingredients. Also, the pulpo, though not tough, was not as meltingly tender as at our favorite versions (i.e. at Recette). On the plus side, the salsa that underlay the dish, a simple one of finely chopped tomatoes and olive oil, was flavorful and helped unify the other components.

Another appetizer, the Queso De Cabra: goat cheese, mesclun greens, white raisins, pine nut vinaigrette featured young, chevre-like goat cheese (from Mitica, our waiter told us), thickly sliced and served toasted to a gorgeous, bubbly brown, on slices of tomato. The greens, mostly baby spinach with a smattering of arugula, were fresh and nicely dressed, with plump raisins and plenty of pine nuts. The ratio of cheese to vegetables was a bit high for a salad listed under the "ensaladas y sopas" section of the menu, but to be fair, queso de cabra was the headline ingredient.

My favorite dish of our meal was the Arroz Negro: squid ink paella with cuttlefish and shrimp. The cuttlefish was tender and fairly fresh, though two out of the three shrimp were slightly past their prime -- a shame considering the restaurant's proximity to sources of excellent, fresh shrimp, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The rice, on the other hand, was excellent. It was made with fat arborio rice, cooked to a perfect al dente, in a real, carbon-steel paella pan. There was only a tiny bit of soccarat on the outer edges, but flavors and textures were wonderful. The dish also came with a thick, garlicky aioli on the side, for mixing into the rice. I didn't think the paella needed anything added at all, it was so flavorful.

I had a glass of a relatively young tempranillo with the paella, but didn't note the vineyard or vintage. (It's the only tempranillo offered by the glass on the wine list.) I wasn't sure how this wine would pair with the seafood, but its restrained red fruit and earthy, even leathery elements actually complemented the big, robust flavors of the paella pretty well, especially after we added the garlicky aioli. The wine was served at the perfect temperature, though I think it'd been open for probably a day or two, beforehand.

Justin's main was a special of Wagyu beef with mashed potatoes and two small spears of asparagus tied with what I think was jamon. This was a basic, but well made dish. Justin asked for the Wagyu (I'm not certain which cut it was, but I'd guess ribeye) medium rare. It came out very rare -- which of course isn't a problem in my book. The beef was not pristinely fresh by restaurant standards in our home town, but it was nicely cooked, tender and moist with a pleasant hint of rosemary. Mashed potatoes were fluffy and buttery, a comforting, straightforward version you might eat at your grandmother's house for Thanksgiving. 

Justin paired his steak with a glass of immoderately fruity Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with a heavy note of chocolate. It's a pleasant, easy-drinking, likable wine if you like this style of cabernet. 

We were too full for dessert, but we promised our very sweet and helpful waiter (who told us he was from Catalonia), we'd come back another time to try them. And we mean it. 

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