Short Order was recently invited to De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean to check out updates to the menu. It had been awhile since our last visit to the luxury Cuban restaurant helmed by the "Godfather of Nuevo Latino Cuisine," chef Doug Rodriguez, so we were excited to taste the changes. The bad news: There weren't many. The good news: The menu is full of flavorful, unique items nonetheless.
After the opening of D. Rodriguez Cuba in 2009 and De Rodriguez Ocean not long after, the two merged in 2011 as the current De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean, located inside South Beach's Hilton Bentley Hotel. Now, the chef spends most of his time at De Rodriguez -- 14 to 18 days out of the month, according to his representative -- and visits the other restaurant he's still involved in, Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, for four to five days monthly. Here's what Chef Rodriguez is serving up at De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean.
Marlin tacos at De Rodriguez on Ocean have a rum-marinated smoked fish filling that is like Chef Rodriguez's high-end version of tuna fish. They're held together by a shell made of malanga, a tropical root vegetable, so biting into a taco is similar to snacking on a bag of taro chips. It's a fun appetizer.
But we were more impressed by the shrimp chicharron (so called because they're fried and crispy like the traditional pork rinds), which comes tossed in an aji amarillo glaze, and the foie gras and fig empanada, with a filling so rich that it's served with savory Serrano ham and an arugula salad to cut the sweetness.
The most clever of the Nuevo Latino appetizers is the Cuban sandwich stick ($12), a newer dish for which the chef says the restaurant has gotten great feedback. Inside a thin crepe-like wrap are the usual suspects (ham, pork, pickles, and Swiss). It's served over malted mustard, a sweet complement that you won't be able to stop dipping your sandwich stick into.
And then there are the ceviches. The tuna watermelon ($20) is a creative play on texture. The raw red fish looks the same as the chunks of fresh fruit to the untrained eye. It's both a visual illusion and tactile treat, as you bite into crisp watermelon and meatier tuna without knowing which is which until you've started chewing. The mixed seafood ceviche ($17), which includes octopus and calamari, is mouthwatering, clean, and refreshing.
Jose Mera, a manager of the restaurant who's worked with Chef Rodriguez on other restaurants, is as attentive as the waiters. Reviewers on UrbanSpoon think so too. Converse with him en español about the Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche ($15), a dish popular in his home country. It's accompanied by tostones, and sea-salt-speckled avocado slices top the plate, which comes in a red tomato sauce with lime and chipotle, like creole but with more of a bite.
Mera said that the vaca frita ($25) is a customer favorite, and it was our favorite too. You can't go wrong with crispy fried meat, true, but this dish went above and beyond the call of vaca frita duty. The shredded skirt steak is marinated for 24 hours in savory herbs and spices, the flavors of which can be picked up in your first bite.
The most notable "new addition to the menu" (as a promotional flyer touts it) was the AAA 4-Diamond Award -- making De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean only one of 10 restaurants on Miami Beach to achieve the designation. That places it among only 2.6 percent of AAA-approved restaurants that have received the honor.
Digging in for another spoonful of the goat cheese flan (we love goat cheese, and we love flan, so kudos to the chef for combining the two), we asked Chef Rodriguez for his thoughts on the new 4-Diamond rating. "Happy to have it," he said. "I've received a lot of accolades. It's not a Michelin star, but I'm very happy."
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The restaurant, which joins such top-notch Miami Beach eateries as Barton G and Gotham Steak, is the only Latin representation among the ranks. "I think in our genre of high-end Cuban food, there aren't a lot of other restaurants out there. That's one of the reasons. That genre contributed a lot," Rodriguez said.
Chef Rodriguez said that menu changes are made seasonally, with summer menu changes coming in a couple of weeks. Until then, De Rodriguez Cuba is participating in Miami Spice -- a great way to sample the menu's signature dishes like we did.