La Mar by Gaston Acurio is one of the finest restaurants in Miami and I was fortunate enough to find time to dine there when I was in the city last month. The restaurant is located in Mandarin Oriental Miami — a stunning space that focuses a lot of the freshest local seafood and ingredients made from scratch.
Chef Richard Bernaola took me through an introductory course where I soon learnt about the various dishes Peruvians are so proud of. Of course, a Pisco Sour at any Peruvian restaurant is customary, and La Mar offers the cocktail as is, or with some Chicha Morada for sweetness and colour.
For the uninitiated, chicha morada is a Peruvian beverage made with purple corn, pineapple and spices, giving it its glorious deep red-purple hue. I love how it’s sweet but not cloyingly so, and with just a hint of spice to keep things exciting. La Mar’s cocktail menu is comprehensive and the signature drinks are priced at USD 15 each — I tried a few and they were really quite good.
A palate teaser was sent over, featuring what looked to me like a Japanese hand-pressed sushi. Richard mentioned that he did a Japanese fusion with this one, to bring out the freshness of the fish.
Ceviche Barrio was a playful dish in terms of colours, flavours and textures. I liked how the yellowtail snapper, mussels, shrimp and crispy calamari comes together so beautifully, through the tangy marinade of lime and aji peppers.
I was further bowled over by a Tiradito (a Peruvian equivalent of crudo and carpaccio, but in sauce) called Nikkei, with tuna slices in a dressing of honey-sesame reduction, sesame oil and passion fruit leche de tigre.
The King Crab Causas was a stunning composition of beef causa, king crab, tobiko, avocado, huancaina sauce, tomatoes and quail egg. Chef Richard used chicha morada in the potato cake, to give it colour and some sweetness. This was almost too pretty to eat and the flavours married beautifully.
Plancha Anticuchera is one of my favourite dishes at La Mar, where the octopus retained its crunchy texture after grilling, further complemented by the pepper, chimichurri and choclo sauce. I was told this is very popular at the restaurant and rightly so. The choclo (corn and cheese) sauce adds richness, while the chimichurri lends a herb-like undertone to the dish.
Grouper Chorrillana features fresh grouper fish in a tamarind chorrillana sauce, aji amarillo and a delicious mashed yuca with smoked bacon. I liked how the sauce was nicely balanced between sweet, tangy and spicy, giving character to the fish. Lomo Saltado is a stir-fry that combines Angus beef, red onions, tomatoes, soy sauce and wedges, with choclo rice. A tad too rich for some I reckon, but this one of Peru’s most loved dishes. I rather enjoyed this, despite feeling full. :)
I was served a dessert platter comprising a mais morado (purple corn) ice cream, Los Picarones and La Lucuma Y El Chocolate. Lucuma is a type of Peruvian fruit that is known as “egg fruit”, and tastes like a cross between maple and sweet potato. The picarones were a delicious deep fry of squash and sweet potato, served with syrup.
Dinner was both an enjoyable and educational experience for me. The chef and his team took the time to explain to me what each dish was so I would understand Peruvian cuisine better. :)