If you think Cuban gourmet fare is an oxymoron, you haven’t yet discovered De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean, Chef Douglas Rodriguez’s restaurant on South Beach.
He recreates traditional Cuban dishes – even that everyday mainstay, moros (black beans and white rice) – with inventive combinations of ingredients. Contrary to what you might expect from typical Cuban food, his preparations will surprise and delight you.
Rodriguez changes his menus often, and posts the current versions to his Web site. You may not find the exact same dishes described below, which my husband (George Leposky, Miami Travel Examiner) and I enjoyed during a recent dinner, but whatever you choose is likely to please.
Starters, appetizers, and soup
For starters, instead of the typical puffy white Cuban dinner roll, we were treated to pan de bono (Colombian cheese bread) and plantains with tomato-onion salsa.
The appetizers we enjoyed were chicken empanadas (chicken ropa vieja with caper salt and red pepper mayonnaise sauce), pan con bistec (braised beef short ribs in a crunchy crust served with a smoked tomato sauce), and smoked marlin tacos.
The marlin was marinated in rum, served in a mayonnaise sauce, and accompanied by a perfect balance of fiery jalapeños and fire-quenching pickled peppers. The open-faced taco, made of sliced and deep-friedmalanga (taro root), was delectably crispy – more so than most other kinds of tortillas.
We also had a cup of Gloria’s frijoles negros (named after the chef’s mother), a vegetarian black-bean soup with a dollop of sour cream, accompanied by crispy rice croquettes.
Ceviche consists of fresh raw fish slices marinated in lemon or lime juice with various spices. De Rodriguez offers an assortment, from which we tasted:
• Tuna watermelon ceviche, with compressed watermelon, kumquat, yuzu, Thai basil, and tarragon.
• Salmon and apple ceviche, with celery and green apple granita (similar to a sorbet, but coarser).
• Maine lobster and mango ceviche, with ginger and lime.
• Shrimp marinated in lime, orange, and chipotle, and served with tostones (fried green plantains). The shrimp were farm-raised on corn meal, which gave them an especially sweet flavor.
Our main-course items were pork and tuna – both ordinary choices in extraordinary preparations.
The pork was a crispy Cuban pork belly, served with Cuban oregano mojo, sweet peppers, and those awesome moros. Growing up in the American midwest, listening to farm reports on local radio stations, we heard pork-belly prices every day but never contemplated this part of the pig as the basis of gourmet fare. Surprise!
The tuna was sugar cane tuna, a tuna loin skewered with stalks of sugar cane and served with smoked tuna mashed potatoes, Catalan spinach, and squid ink sauce. The tuna was seared to perfection, rare inside – not still swimming, and not overcooked.
Our dessert choices were Key lime pie served with coconut sorbet, and a smokey chocolate cigar – a cigar-shaped slice of chocolate and almond cake with cocoa powder, enrobed with a semi-sweet chocolate mousse and served with a candied match box inside a wooden cigar box.
De Rodriguez is at 101 Ocean Drive, in the 108-room Hilton Bentley Hotel near the south end of South Beach. Predictably, most of his customers are tourists and Miami Beach residents. He wants to draw more diners from the mainland, but that’s a challenge. Parking on the Beach is pricey and scarce, discouraging people who might otherwise drive across the causeways to dine.
The good news is De Rodriguez has convenient parking close at hand. Most of the time you can skip the hotel’s $15 valet parking and self-park, in the city lot across the street or on local streets within a block or two of the restaurant. Come early so you don’t compete with patrons of the nearby Nikki Beach club, which attracts a late-night crowd.
Calling ahead for reservations is advisable. Ask whether the restaurant is booked for a special event on the night you want to come, and whether anything else happening on the Beach is likely to gobble up the nearby parking.
If the coast is clear, then go and enjoy a really great meal.
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