Though he started in south Florida, his ground-breaking PATRIA in New York City was what brought his food to national attention. I loved that place: raucous and fun, yet sophisticated, like a great party. And the food was always not only delicious, but truly beautiful on the plate: plantain arcs bisecting ruby chunks of tuna speckled with electric green cilantro and creamy white coconut milk. Plus, my friend who's been a vegetarian since the age of 9 claimed it as one of her favorite places to eat in the city, because when you asked for a "vegetarian option" you left it up to the creativity of the kitchen, which always presented a gorgeous combination of vegetable and starch that was clearly no afterthought.
Eventually Patria closed after a long run, and Rodriguez opened both Chicama and Pipa, one block apart, still in the Flatiron area. And Chicama became one of my favorite spots: great drinks, and an amazing assortment of ceviches that were out-of-this-world. Now, I could eat ceviche all day long and never tire of it. I hope to tour Peru and the rest of Latin America on a "ceviche grand tour 2013." To say that I still have dreams about his spicy, tart, and sweet ceviche with tuna, octopus and tamarind (note: if anyone can get their hands on this recipe for me, I'd be forever indebted!) -- reflects that it was truly one of the best things I ever consumed.
So when, after closing his New York outposts, I read that Rodriguez had opened in Miami, I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to worship at the altar of my favorite ceviche master. Though I have faith that all of his restaurants have been and will be excellent, his De Rodriguez Cuban place holds less interest for me than his ceviche-centric cocina, OLA, opened in late 2010. It was voted as "The Best Ceviche" by The Miami New Times's Best of Miami list. So to OLA I went.
The space is intimate, sultry, with Latin music humming in the background (this was lively, but certainly lacked the din and energy of the old Patria). We settled in for a very comfortable dining experience. The enthusiastic wait staff brought us some deliciously strong cocktails, including a cooling watermelon mojito that hit the spot on a steamy summer evening. The perfect accompaniment? Ceviche, of course: but how to choose?! I went for the mixto ceviche, with octopus, cobia, and shrimp in lime and orange juices with limo pepper, cilantro and kalamata olives. Delicious.
But other amazing and diverse ceviches include the wahoo (love this fish!) with watermelon jalapeno juice, basil, diced cantaloupe, red onions and cucumber sorbet. Also interesting and rich is the tuna and foie gras, with kumquat-yuzu sauce, lemon oil, black pepper, serrano chiles and baby arugula. And for ceviche with an Asian twist, the himachi nikkei is mixed with yuzu, thai basil, togarashi peppers, cilantro, sweet soy glaze, and crushed seaweed and sesame seeds. And these are a separate menu from the starters, which are a series of mostly empanadas (try the short rib, lobster, or foie gras versions) and salads.
I must include some gorgeous photos of Chef Rodriguez's ceviche creations: truly edible art...
Another friend got the pescado a lo macho (macho fish?), which was the day's catch seared and served over sauteed baby spinach, grilled red onions with aji amarillo sauce, and clams, calamari, shrimp, and black mussels for a sort of deconstructed Latin seafood stew. And for meat lovers, there's the filet mignon churrasco, the signature carne, with grilled asparagus, chipotle crabmeat dressing and chimichurri. Of course, after all of this great food we were stuffed, but the desserts at Rodriguez's restaurants are always a treat as well, and worth saving a little room for.
Perhaps Chef Rodriguez's most iconic dessert, the "chocolate cigar," is an almond chocolate cake enrobed in semisweet chocolate mousse made to look exactly like a cuban cigar, and is served in an ashtray dish with coffee ice cream and a candy matchbox. Clever, adorable, and exquisite. It was my friend Mauro's birthday when we went, so when he excused himself to head to the men's room after the main course, we ordered a birthday dessert for him. Once he returned to the table, out came a beautiful plate on which was written "Happy Birthday Mauro" in chocolate sauce, with a flan de queso ice cream, pistachio cake, mixed berry salad, guava foam, and balsamic vinegar reduction: delicioso!
Kudos to chef de cuisine Horacio Rivadero and Rodriguez's entire crew at OLA. I wish you all continued success, and hey Chef: come back to New York soon, we miss you!
OLA Miami at The Sanctuary
1745 James Street (between 17th and 18th Sts.)
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Phone: (305) 695-9125