Hats Off to Panama

The shrimp and steak were terrific, but two other main courses impressed me even more. Pulpo a la costena, octopus in coconut milk, was mild and succulent. The chunks of octopus had give, yielding to the teeth rather than resisting them, and the creamy broth was resonant with curry. Wonderful. Pescado a la Tipitapa was also a delight. A whole snapper had been stuffed with jalapenos and onions, then battered and deep-fried. The coating split easily to yield sweet, firm white fish, heartily flavored and pulled easily off its skeleton. A ramekin of zingy tomato-onion sauce was provided for dipping.

We decided to try a real "Panamanian treat" for dessert, and followed our server's recommendation for the sundae boulevard balboa. A scoop of vanilla ice cream was buried under a plethora of candied cherries and pineapple, plus a froth of whipped cream. Arroz con leche made better use of white rice than the aforementioned side dish -- here the grains were evenly cooked and spiked with cream and cinnamon.

Wooden chairs and tables, booths, and a low-hanging roof give Las Molas, named for the applique designs of the Cuna Indians, a generic hacienda-like appearance. The decor could fool the customer into assuming that nothing special is going on in the kitchen. That would be a mistake. Maybe it's the name McNish that is keeping the place empty on weeknights. More likely, though, many folks don't know what to make of Panamanian fare, a lesser-known Latin cuisine here in Miami. My advice? Don't make anything of it. Just go.

Las Molas
10910 W Flagler St, Sweetwater; 305-221-8833. Lunch and dinner daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday to 1:00 a.m.

Ceviche de corvina
$4.95

Super tipico
$16.00

Pulpo a la costena
$10.95

Pescado a la Tipitapa
$14.95

Sundae boulevard balboa
$3.50

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