Authentically Average

No average diner would ever mistake the traditional dishes of Denmark for those of France, or confuse Japanese cuisine with Indian. Much more difficult, though, is differentiating between the fare of Latin American nations. Onion, pepper, garlic, and tomato sofritos, for instance, are ubiquitous throughout the region, and doesn't every Hispanic country do an empanada?

There are differences, albeit subtle, in the foods of South American countries. A Venezuelan empanada is not the same as the Chilean version, and neither of them is like the Argentine rendition. At first glance, Miami's Latin eateries might look like a slightly confusing, multinational hodgepodge of taste traditions. And seemingly the only way to ensure you're experiencing truly typical food is to wangle a dinner invitation to the home of a friend's abuela. But Chilean classics are all you'll find at the family-run Sabores Chilenos on the Beach.

With the exception of a special house salad — a take on the Caprese with queso fresco substituting for mozzarella — forget about fusion. All the remaining dishes mirror ones you'd actually find in Chile. There are the popular parilladas, though not as omnipresent as in Argentine restaurants, and a langostino-garnished "fettucini," reflecting the influence of Chile's Italian immigrants.


Sabores Chilenos on the Beach

7419 Collins Ave, Miami Beach

305-865-7036. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Humitas, two hefty corn tamals, were a satisfying starter. Though often likened to Mexican tamale because of their corn-leaf wrappers, the Chilean filling comprised not only cornmeal but also whole kernels and was more creamed-corn custardy than grainy. Halfway through the hefty helping, when their pleasant blandness becomes boring, a dollop of stingingly hot pebre sauce awakens the taste buds.

Corn custard is also the base for pastel de choclo, a traditional Chilean summer favorite that could easily nourish a Canadian during the harsh winter months. The crustless corn pie — more of a heavy bread pudding packed with ground beef, chicken chunks, onions, olives, raisins, and corn kernels — was flavorful, if formidable. Costillas de cerdo, a virtually fat-free rack of baby-back pork ribs, was also satisfying thanks to the pronounced smokey flavor imparted by Sabores's grill.

Not nearly as tasty was the machas a la parmesana, a traditional seafood dish so poorly executed that murdered would be a more accurate description. When served as it should be, the dish is a winner: briny-sweet, fresh pink or Pacific razor clams in their shells, doused with lemon juice, finely diced onion, white wine, and cilantro, and topped with cheese, before a brief roasting to meld the savory flavors. Sabores offered a flavorless version, featuring shucked pink clams surrounded by a watery lemon broth and topped with sodden, melted cheese curds. An order of "sopaipillas" — little pillows of deep-fried puff pastry bread — might have helped soak up the broth had they not arrived stone cold, at the meal's end, and tough enough to resole a pair of Doc Martens.

A torta de lucuma — mousse cake flavored with a product similar to canistel — was a toothachingly sweet dessert, but it could be something patrons with better dental plans might enjoy. Mote con huesillos features a glass of barley and reconstituted dried peaches served in the fruit's sugary liquid; it's definitely authentic, but more of an acquired taste for the rest of us. I recommend drinking dessert instead; Balduzzi Carmenère is an indisputably soft, dry, full-bodied Chilean red wine that Sabores sells for less than $10 a bottle.

It might not be up to abuela's standards, but with wine prices verging on the miraculous and meals barely costing double digits, it's a fun alternative.


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