Seems like Miami is hungry for high-end Mexican food. At least that's what the folks behind Cantina La Veinte think. Part of Cinbersol Group, which has opened more than 30 concepts in Mexico, this location is Cantina La Veinte's first U.S. outpost (the other three are all in Mexico City).
Like the restaurant, the menu is grand. There are stuffed chilies, salads, earthy appetizers, ceviche, colossal soup bowls, and other seafood. There's also plenty of Mexican objets d'art for purchase.
Situated in the Icon Brickell, Cantina La Veinte boasts two floors and is a concept within a concept. Enter through the retro doorway that's branded with copper maize and agave, or take the stairs down to the restaurant's patio and bar or adjacent market. If Jay Gatsby had relocated to the Magic City, this would be his party mansion. A piano and vistas of Brickell Key and Biscayne Bay set the mood for the evening. Hundreds of trinkets line the display shelves -- Mexican folk art for sale to intrigued diners.
Dragones, cara de muertos, and burros all make an appearance. You'll also find carousel vases and lions' heads. It's your typical Mexican restaurant, for Mexico City anyway. "This is what we do in Mexico City," general manager Emmanuel Bergeiso says. "The art is just as important as the food." Indeed, there's even a pricing menu for all of the artful treasures.
Doblalitas de jaiba suave ($21) -- crunchy soft-shell crab served in flour tortillas with jalapeño sauce.
Courtesy of Cantina La Veinte
As far as the menu goes, there's a lot to choose from. Start with an aguachile, a type of ceviche that's flavored with lime juice. The rib-eye incarnation ($18) marinates thinly sliced smoked rib eye in chile canica-lime juice, garlic chips, chopped avocado, and red onion. You can also opt for traditional ceviche, either rock shrimp ($19) in a smoked lime-cilantro-tamarind-mezcal sauce or a mix of shrimp, scallops, oysters, crabmeat, octopus, and chopped serrano chilies with a fresh tomato-lime sauce ($21). Earthy appetizers include queso fresco skewers with baked zucchini blossoms ($16), sopes con pollo ($16), and more rib eye, in the form of chicharrones ($21). Yes, you read that right.
Ostiones rasudaros ($19): Mexican style, raw, served with maggi-lime caviar and chopped red onion.
Courtesy of Cantina La Veinte
There's also plenty of soups. Thin noodles cooked in a black bean salsa with mixed seafood are dubbed "fideos negros" and seem weirdly awesome. A plethora of tacos and stuffed chiles range in price from $12-$27 and will have you salivating. Mains start at $18 for a grilled octopus and peak at market prices for the catch of the day cooked in salt or giant prawns sautéed in garlic, lime and butter.
All food is available for order in the restaurant or in the outdoor patio, which is well equipped with rotating fans, making summer in Miami somewhat easier to survive. Two bars (inside and outside) will serve handcrafted cocktails with quality spirits -- everything but rum. "People don't really drink rum in Mexico," says beverage director Mark A. Kinzer.
Get refreshed with a sangria, margarita or Mexicali cooler -- Kappa Chilean Pisco shaken with pressed cucumber, citrus juices, pineapple, and caramel then braced with spicy ginger beer. Cocktails range from $11.50 to $28.50 for a Day of the Dead old fashioned, with ingredients stirred and then laid to rest in a decanter for a minimum of three weeks until ordered; then it is revived with pecan wood smoke and served over block ice with orange zest. Did we mention it's made for sharing?
Craving something Mexican but don't want to make a dent in your wallet? A market will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily and serve made-to-order, as well as pre-packaged goodies. Sandwiches, salads, juices, coffee, and ice cream all will be available in addition to other Mexican treats.
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A happy hour will roll out with the opening of the restaurant in addition to Sunday brunch, which will feature a variety of stations including quesadilla, taco, and grill. "We're also thinking about doing a happy hour at 11 p.m.," says Bergeiso. "Just for one hour to midnight, but we know Miami likes to eat and drink late and Mexico likes to party, so it's a perfect combination."
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha