Dine by the Bay at Mandarin Oriental's New Eatery
by jordan melnick
La Mar by Gaston Acurio brings celebrated ceviche to a waterfront setting on Brickell Key.
La Mar by Gaston Acurio, at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami, is an ode to all things oceanic, from its menu to the view overlooking Biscayne Bay.
When you’re sitting bayside at a Brickell Key resort, chasing the tart perfection of a snapper ceviche with a cool beer, the word “disorder” could not be further from the tip of your leche de tigre-coated tongue. But that’s precisely the word Executive Chef Diego Oka uses to describe the Mandarin Oriental, Miami’s newest restaurant, La Mar by Gaston Acurio. “It’s a beautiful disorder,” says Oka, a disciple of Acurio, perhaps Peru’s most globally celebrated chef. “There is beauty in not being perfect.”
The food at La Mar is indeed beautiful, but not in a “too pretty to eat” kind of way. There is, for example, the tiradito of wagyu beef—thin slices of deep-red meat topped with bright greens, rocoto oroshi, and golden garlic chips in a rich orange ponzu sauce that gives you a hint of the dish’s subtle earthiness even before you taste it. The beef tiradito is memorable, not least for the large grains of pink salt that ring the plate, but it’s actually a bit of an outlier for La Mar. As its name implies, this restaurant is an ode to the sea: the pattern of turquoise scales under the bar, the fishnet lamps, and Biscayne Bay, visible from nearly every seat in the house.
Executive Chef Diego Oka is a disciple of Peru’s acclaimed Gaston Acurio.
On the way to your table, you pass an open kitchen where black-clad cooks grill chicken, octopus, asparagus, whole jumbo prawns, and veal hearts on an open fire. The veal hearts—dubbed “Corazon” on La Mar’s anticucho (grilled skewered meat) menu—are Oka’s first attempt to push Miami diners into riskier culinary territory.
The veal hearts may be a hit, but ceviche is the true corazón of the La Mar menu, the “starting point” of the whole restaurant, Oka says. Drenched in a blend of lemon juice, fish stock, aji, garlic, celery, red onion, and salt—the aforementioned leche de tigre—La Mar’s ceviches all feature large, luscious chunks of fresh seafood topped with garnishes like peanuts and cancha, a homemade Andean version of American corn nuts.
Chefs behind the anticucho bar preparing skewers of grilled meat.
Ceviche is the perfect beginning to your meal. From there, you can sample the tiraditos—“Japanese sashimi Peruvian style”—and the Peruvian nigiri, “inspired by more than 100 years of Japanese immigrants.” (Oka, a proud Peruvian, is himself of Japanese descent.) Then move on to the causas, which are a bite’s worth of cold potato puree topped with anything from tuna tartare to a quail egg. “In Peru, we don’t have traditional salad, so causas are our salad,” Oka explains.
Among La Mar’s entrées, the early favorite is the whole fish Nikei, served in fried, meaty chunks that are nestled in the curving body of the fish itself, drizzled in a spicy ginger sauce and plated with bok choy and broccoli rice. “La Mar is a place to celebrate,” Oka says. “We usually eat ceviche in Peru with a beer in front of the sea. So La Mar, here in Miami, is that, no?”
It is that, yes. 500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami, 305-913-8358
photography by gary james; george apostolidis (arroz con mariscos)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.