By Zachary Fagenson
By Bill Citara
By Laine Doss
By Laine Doss
By Carina Ost
By Valeria Nekhim
By Hannah Sentenac
By Carina Ost
Ambrosia is variously defined as the food of the gods and a salad of oranges, bananas, pineapple, and shredded coconut.
I don't know about you, but if I were a god, I'd be eating my weight in foie gras, slathering my body with fresh truffles, bathing in Cristal, and snorting caviar as if it were a high-grade pharmaceutical. These gods must be a bunch of dimwits.
There is another ambrosia, though, fortunately one that has nothing to do with an icky fruit concoction that belongs in the seventh circle of culinary hell, alongside such abominations as potato chip-crusted chicken, onion soup-mix dip, and frozen green bean casserole.
1401 Simonton St.
Key West, FL 33040
Region: Florida Keys
This Ambrosia is an ink spot of a Peruvian restaurant jammed into a thin sliver of space at the north end of Bird Avenue in Coconut Grove. It's a charmingly funky place, dwarfed by the hulking Flanigan's next door, where for all I know you still can get that other kind of ambrosia, the food of the dimwit gods.
In our Ambrosia, a counter in the tiny white-tiled room provides enough indoor seating for a single nuclear family. Another twenty or so chairs are crammed onto a covered outdoor patio, where a few portable fans do their best to blow some cool relief into the torrid summer air as thick as the creamy cheese sauce that graces the papas huancaina.
It's a good dish by the way. Good looking too. Little domes of boiled potato with an earthy, almost sweet flavor (don't ask me why, but South Florida has great-tasting potatoes) are encircled by a pale green fringe of crunchy iceberg lettuce and then napped with a golden cheese sauce flecked with vivid exclamation points of red pepper bits and black olives.
An appetizer portion of ceviche gets an equally colorful presentation: a small mountain of thinly sliced red onion atop a larger mountain of lightly cooked and impeccably fresh grouper kissed -- rather than drenched -- with lime juice and arriving with the traditional accompaniments of choclo (kernels of giant Peruvian corn) and a slab of boiled sweet potato.
Not surprisingly, seafood gets top billing and includes just about everything from Ahab's nemesis to Disney's Nemo to Jaws tossed into Ambrosia's signature "Seafood Delight," which comes with (grunt, flex) "macho sauce." In truth, the mildly seasoned sauce is about as macho as Pee-wee Herman, but jazz it up with a few spoonfuls of housemade aji paste -- a flame-throwing blend of aji amarillo, habaneros, and jalapeños -- and it becomes a manly man's brew that could grow hair on a cue ball.
That chili bite is what pulls the dish together, making the sauce a piquant foil to a wealth of tenderly cooked seafood -- shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, pinkie-size rounds of octopus, and slabs of fried fish, along with tomatoes, onions, and a big mound of rice.
The day's special, beef estafado, wasn't nearly as extravagant but nonetheless satisfying in a homey, uncomplicated way. The one nouveau touch was a surrounding oval of bean risotto, small white beans cooked risotto-style that allowed some to melt into a thick, creamy sauce and others to remain whole and firm.
For dessert show some sense of adventure. Why eat flan when you can eat babarrua --a wedge of impossibly tall, fluffy, gelatin-firmed meringue studded with prunes and puddled by neon raspberry and mango purées? It's light, airy, and surprisingly tasty and, who knows, it might even help keep you regular.
Which is a lot more than you can say for the ambrosia of those dimwit gods.