At Klima Restaurant and Bar, the striking Spanish-Mediterranean spot that opened in March steps away from Collins Avenue in Mid-Beach, dessert means a glass bowl filled with a puckery passionfruit cream and coconut foam that evokes the tart, sugary contrast of a good piña colada. A core of crushed ice with torn mint shocks every bite to life. Spoons are drawn back to it like magnets.
If only every dish were this successful.
The passionfruit reflects the beauty of the decor. Spaniards Pablo Fernández-Valdés and Yago Giner relocated here from Barcelona a year ago to take over after the closure of Tosca, which plied high-end Italian fare that grasped at sophistication.
The revived 70-seater, named for Miami's balmy climate, fills a special space. It's where Andrea Curto-Randazzo opened Talula in 2003, offering what then-New Times critic Lee Klein dubbed "cutting-edge comfort food" with Asian, Mediterranean, and American Southwest influences. Back then, the idea was groundbreaking. Today, such a theme could be applied to the Cheesecake Factory.
Talula was sold in 2008 and became Eden, whose short-lived kitchen was overseen from afar by Christopher Lee, now running the Forge. Klima's kitchen is helmed by 32-year-old David "Rusti" Rustarazo. The self-taught chef spent time at Barcelona's Coure before crossing the Atlantic. The menu shies away from the expected tapas format and instead falls in line with a more traditional appetizer-entrée progression.
It's offered in a modern, welcoming place guarded by heavy wooden doors that reveal an orange-and-red-dappled lounge. An impossibly skinny hostess guides guests toward the main dining room and past a long burnt-orange couch. Above it on shelves rise stacks of coffee-table books and an array of sophisticated-looking sundries.
The stark space opens with more concrete walls and beige banquettes under swooping black wires suspending lamps. Red-maple beams run across the ceiling, drawing all eyes toward an idyllic patio filled with charcoal metal chairs and tables illuminated by lanterns of carved corrugated cardboard.
Despite the face-lift, Klima will have a difficult time standing out. Miami perennially sprouts Spanish-Mediterranean restaurants. It needs something bold.
The appetizers provide a dubious start. From among a half-dozen of them, servers push a $45 plate of ham culled from the leg of a black-footed pig. Other options include Asian-inspired dishes such as cubes of Hawaiian bigeye tuna doused in one-note chipotle sauce and perched atop a corn crisp. The most striking thing about this dish is the price: $24 for four half-dollar rounds. Servers couldn't specify which variety of West Coast oysters the kitchen was topping with an overpowering combination of ponzu sauce and salmon roe and an overly sour leche de tigre.
Then there's the half-cooked egg. It includes a generous portion of crisped jamón ibérico and a dusting of black truffle. But a better version appears across the bridge at Niu Kitchen. It includes just the right amount of salt in the whipped potato foam. Klima adds none. However, Klima scores points by calling it "parmentier" in honor of the Frenchman Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who championed potatoes across Europe in the late 18th Century.
The same smooth concoction comes alongside a cold, dense chicken terrine whose interior bears the promised foie gras in a chilled, rubbery stasis. It is intended to be served room temperature, Rustarazo says. Had it arrived so, perhaps the rich, concentrated chicken stock reduction could have helped salt the pooling potato purée. A similar technical misstep scuttled a fat red snapper fillet, leaving supple, flaky meat hiding beneath a flabby, oily layer of skin that should have been a crisp crown.
Klima boasts its use of a Josper oven. The Financial Times in 2011 dubbed the Spanish-built grill/oven/broiler the latest "must-have chef's toy." Here, it's the preferred cooking method for young chickens, pork ribs, lamb, and steaks. Servers promise it offers the best of all three cooking techniques: the broiler's sear, the grill's smoke, and the oven's precise temperature. It achieved one of three when a New York strip arrived a solid, bloody medium-rare. The crusty sear was absent. Salt was again a no-show. A bed of velvety smoked and shredded eggplant helped make good on the final promise.
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Many of the vegetables offered alongside proteins or à la carte — such as a luscious escalivada featuring cooled, well-seasoned strips of red pepper, onion, and eggplant — show the kitchen isn't completely lost. An unassuming salad of gossamer fennel strips splashed with olive oil and dotted with Kalamata olives, burrata, and intensely sweet sun-dried tomatoes proves the point.
But it seems that for every success, there is a failure. The fire-engine-red puck of steak tartare was too roughly chopped, leaving small white nubs peeking out. Its unnatural hue traced to an overabundance of chipotle-spiked aioli, soy, and barbecue sauce.
The world continues to adore Spanish flavors, and few places do so like Miami. The city is filled with Central and South Americans whose culinary foundations are tied to Spain's. Just a few months old, Klima is well positioned to take advantage of this hunger. But the hungering masses are none too forgiving, and this new restaurant will have to step up its game to stop diners from moving on to the next pretty thing.