Jamón, the cornerstone of Spain's culinary culture.
The Mourning of elBulli and the State of Molecular Gastronomy
When he shuttered Spain’s elBulli in July, Ferran Adrià may have vaporized “the most famous restaurant in the world,” but was the sound of that nitrous oxide tank hitting the shelf also the death knell of molecular gastronomy? Here in our own Spanish-accented backyard, the relationship with cutting-edge Iberian fare has been as rocky as the Costa Brava.
The more daring Spanish restaurants over the last decade sang swan songs just as more traditional spots, especially tapas bars, began popping up like saffron crocuses in autumn.
Most notable of the failures was The Mark Condominium’s multimillion-dollar La Broche by Sergi Arola, founder and chef of La Broche Madrid along with Angel Palacios, one of Adrià’s protégés. Though the critics, including me, loved the whimsical science experiments, within little more than a year of its 2002 debut the spot fizzled like foie gras foam in a hot car. Another Adrià protégé, Jordi Valles, tamed the cuisine using familiar ingredients like roast pig alongside the gels, and won loyal followers from 2004 until 2006 at the upscale Brickell-area Mosaico y Salero—but not enough to survive. Other casualties include Botin, the famed Madrid import that’s a branch of the oldest restaurant in the world, and more recently, Coconut Grove’s exquisite Ideas Restaurant and the W South Beach’s Soleá, which lately closed “for renovations.”
Barcaloneta Mercat and Bistro's pulpo à feira
Miami's Next Spanish Wave
Keeping up with all these changes has been a full-time—and very delicious—job. Recent standouts in a crowded field include the lively Xixón and the more intimate Bocaito, both on Coral Way, as well as the delightfully hidden Jamon Jamon Jamon on the Miami River. Here, chef Felipe Perez, a native of Avila, northwest of Madrid, cooks a delectable arroz negro, a paella-like black rice with squid ink and calamari. The sensational three-year-old Por Fin Restaurant & Lounge also deserves mention for having morphed from serving more complicated Spanish fare into a successful, comfortable hot spot offering somewhat more traditional cuisine.
These are the places that have paved the way for Barceloneta Mercat and Bistro (1400 20th St., Miami Beach, 305-538-9299), which promises to be the most exciting new entry into the Iberian culinary field. The brand-new European bistro, from the owners of Pubbelly on South Beach, focuses on Spain’s predominantly Catalan cuisine, with a French influence. Products are sourced from Europe with a well-curated market of made-in-Spain ingredients, including Manchego, Mahón and tetilla cheeses and charcuterie such as Paleta Ibérico, Jamón Serrano, pata negra, lomo embuchado, sobrasada and fuet. Locally and internationally sourced seafood and meats a la planxa can be purchased to go, along with homemade pâtés, marmalades, the ancient strain of Calasparra rice known as arroz Bomba, Maldon sea salt and ventresca tuna.
Chef Juliana Gonzalez, who’s also a partner and worked at Madrid’s two-Michelin-star La Broche in addition to the Miami branch, will be reinventing classic tapas dishes such as tortilla de patatas, brandada de bacalao, almejas con chorizo, pulpo a la Barceloneta and gambas con ajillo. Other standards— such as rossejat, a toasted noodle paella, and botifarra amb mongetes, a braised white bean stew with house-made white pork—will be done with exceptional ingredients and skill.
“We are doing something very different,” says Barceloneta partner Andreas Schreiner, “without being overdone.” The eatery’s reasonable prices and homegrown sensibility confirm its operators’ commitment to “cater to the locals.”
“The elBulli stuff was never really embraced,” insists Por Fin’s young owner, Carlos Centurion. He has learned through Miami diners’ reactions that “people want to have fun and feel that warm sensation that makes you feel happy…. not to talk about the dish and how much effort went into making it.” With that said, it seems clear the Barceloneta folks have a winner on their hands.