By Laine Doss
By Ily Goyanes
By Camille Lamb
By Laine Doss
By David Minsky
By Emily Codik
By Zachary Fagenson
By Laine Doss
In the novel How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto writes about a fabric pattern called the "Crazy Quilt" and the women who are involved in sewing it. The narrator says, "I am reminded of some sort of complicated dance of many partners, facing many different directions."
This "complicated dance," of course, is an analogy for the Crazy Quilt itself, a unified whole constructed of bizarre and seemingly unconnected parts. Each quilter contributes those materials that mean something to her: a square from the faded plaid shirt of a first lover, the yellowed lace edging from a baby's christening gown. The shape and color of the fabric are enriched by the life stories behind it, and those tales become in some ways part of the variegated fabric of the quilt.
General manager Gabe Forment chuckled with a slight air of embarrassment when he compared the kitchen of the two-month-old Cafe Kolibri to a quilt. The staff, he explained, consists of a conglomeration of international chefs who contribute their backgrounds and experience much the way quilters donate their patchwork and threads. He needn't have been embarrassed. It's this kind of cooperative spirit that allows Kolibri to offer a tantalizing pattern of its own: healthy gourmet dining.
The restaurant's design reflects the cuisine's theme of the beauty and bounty of the Earth. Natural materials such as copper and wood combine to create one of the most lovely and spacious rooms I've viewed in Miami. Carved, ivy-leafed columns resembling palm trees stand between wrought-iron-and-oak tables. Handmade chairs, 137 of them, feature emerald-green cloth seats and oak backs. On the southern wall, four murals depict on canvas the elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. A fifth mural, like some powerful storm, incorporates all of them. Even the menus embody the devotion to nature. Stiff, pressed balsa wood serves as covers, from which a grand "K" protrudes, bas-relief, on the lunch version.
I was pleased to discover that the menu, despite drawing on world-cuisine influences ranging from Indian to South American to Italian, coheres perfectly; I appreciated even more that finally a restaurant catering to the heart-smart community does so with a true gourmet flair, and without sanctimony and self-righteousness.
For example, it wasn't enough that the empanada appetizer -- those tempting, flaky turnovers surrounding a minced mixture of artichokes, wild mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese -- had an intense, earthy flavor to it. The empanada is also offered on the menu as a "vegan" choice, minus the cheese. (A vegan is a vegetarian who forgoes all animal products, including milk and eggs; like allergy sufferers, vegans frequently experience the difficulty of asking the servers detailed questions about food preparation.) This alternative is a sign of Kolibri's thoughtfulness.
Vegan choices also extend to salads, in which items like feta cheese may be substituted with marinated tofuAat no extra cost, unlike some other restaurants. We chose to be carnivorous, however, and ordered the "rapscallion" chicken tenders, Jamaican jerk-seasoned strips of chicken with a Stilton blue-cheese dip. You can look this item up in the dictionary under "spicy." Fortunately, service excelled, and our water glasses were refilled with a fresh, iced supply after every appreciative gasp over the hotter-than-hot dish.
The platter of grilled shrimp, served chilled on a float of tequila-scented lime cream, offered a beautiful, clockface-style presentation. The medium-size crustaceans lined the rim of the plate, which was rubbed purposefully with chopped green herbs. Biting into the shrimp offered the faint crackling sensation that accompanies the best grilled shellfish, and the shrimp's sweet flavor underlay the touch of the chef's smoke and fire. I was disappointed, however, by the subterfuge that accompanied the plate: What at first appeared to be a dozen thin shrimp were in reality six shrimp, sliced lengthwise. Their crisp outer layers faced the diner while the fleshier insides nestled obscurely in the cream.
The salads used only the freshest available lettuces, and Kolibri did not skimp here: our tossed salads included radicchio, red leaf, and arugula. The salads accompanied each main course, and this is where the service shined especially bright. Crueted dressings were brought alongside the table; as each diner was given the salad, the waitress asked softly which dressing that diner would prefer. This is the first time in Miami I've seen the server repeat herself tirelessly and privately to every customer, without becoming impatient and shouting the choices for the table to hear. Even more impressive was the simple preparation of my personal favorite of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, bottled separately. (The containers were clean, too. Many restaurants offering vinegar and oil as choices fail to ever wash the bottles). With a dash of freshly ground pepper, there is nothing more enticing than the sweet, sharp, aged richness of balsamic vinegar on a nutty and slightly bitter green salad.
The Italian influence is clear at Kolibri. We tried the "festival" lasagna, a tender artichoke pasta with a saffron-scented tomato sauce, sauteed artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and three cheeses (nondairy cheese is the vegan option). Even with all these ingredients, the enormous lasagna retained its integrity, thankfully not disintegrating into an unrecognizable, overly cheesy mash. Equally huge were the servings of pasta puttanesca, with capers, black olives, and hot peppers in a tangy sauce. We also welcomed a wonderful pasta with its artichoke hearts and mushrooms served in the same saffron sauce that enlivened the lasagna. All pasta dishes are mix-and-match -- your choice of five sauces and three different types of noodles.