Mixtura: Pricey Peruvian or Trendy Fusion?
Mixtura Peruvian Restaurant is having an identity crisis.
The Peruvian restaurant is located a block south of Miracle Mile in the space that once housed another Latin eatery, La Cofradia. The sign above the entrance still bears the former resident's name. The website lives online under lacofradia.com. And the heavy, leather-bound menu covers are etched with the same name. At the end of each meal, a check arrives with La Cofradia printed across the top.
This is likely no mistake. La Cofradia used to be one of Miami-Dade's best restaurants. Miami New Times named it Coral Gables' best eatery in 2008.
La Cofradia opened in 2005 under Jean Paul Desmaisons. He left in 2009 and earlier this year opened his namesake Jean Paul's House, also of the Peruvian persuasion, in the ever-more-trendy Wynwood neighborhood. While at La Cofradia, Desmaisons offered a pricey yet well-executed menu of dishes like pork slowly braised in grapes and pisco, a grape brandy popular in Peru.
La Cofradia's ceviches were also stellar. The selection included diced seafood marinated in leche de tigre, the Peruvian term for the citrus-based marinade that "cooks" it, and aji limo peppers; an Asian ceviche was built on cubes of yellowfin tuna with soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil topped with seaweed. Strong stuff.
Nestor Rojas and Miguel Hilck, partners in a North Beach place called Mixtura, bought La Cofradia earlier this year, slightly altering the interior and bringing in a new chef. Before their midsummer opening, they said they intended to trade its high-priced menu and business clientele for small plates and a younger, hipper crowd.
The menu here is the same as the Mixtura up north, though the look is different. Rather than the airy white interior of the first location, this place is decorated with a palette of bold, imposing colors mostly held over from La Cofradia.
The restaurant claims to offer "Peruvian fusion cuisine," and such a promise is easily kept thanks to Japanese elements in Peruvian cooking stemming from a sharing of people and customs that began in the late 19th Century. Mixtura aims to take that a step further "with Spanish cuisine... and important contribut[ing] culinary customs brought from the Atlantic coast by slaves," according to its website.
The best of two visits came thanks to a waitress's recommendation to combine two elements from two classic Peruvian dishes: the yellow cheesy sauce from the papa a la huancaína and the tender grilled meat of the lomo saltado.
Despite the promise of small plates, they were scarce. There were large ceviches and high-priced entrées, nearly all with Latin American influences. Only a handful of tables on both visits was filled, all with middle-aged couples and groups. During one visit, we listened to a pair of men bemoan the cost of their children's college tuitions. So much for the young, hip crowd.
The list of ceviches is nearly double the size once offered at La Cofradia. We gave the fusion a shot with the Ceviche Aphrodisiac ($17), a mix of seafood in uni sauce, the Japanese name for sea urchin roe. But we couldn't detect a hint of its trademark brininess or creaminess. Still, the portion was full of punchy, garlicky aji amarillo made from Peruvian yellow peppers, brightened up with plenty of lime juice. It was also large enough for three to share. The fish was unevenly cut yet tender and pleasantly firm from being bathed in acid with a few whole shrimp and squid rings. The dish was closer to a traditional Peruvian ceviche — not a bad thing, just not what we were expecting.
The other fusion we found on the expansive menu was a shortlist of sushi rolls and an Asian-inspired tacu-tacu, a classic Peruvian mixture of beans and rice, fried and topped with breaded and fried steak and an onion salsa "with Chinese aromas." Servers on both visits suggested classic Peruvian dishes, curious for a restaurant that's been pushing a modern, fusion image.
Mixtura's classic Peruvian offerings were its strongest. The arroz con mariscos ($22) brought a heaping portion of rice mixed with plump mussels, shrimp, dime-size sea scallops, and squid rings. The rice was cooked to perfect consistency — just beyond chewy — and flavorful, thanks to infused Parmesan cheese and roasted red pepper.
Mixtura's lomo saltado ($20), one of Peru's most famous dishes, could hold its own against any Miami rendition. Mixtura used tenderloin tips rather than the usual sirloin strips, offering more flavorful, tender bits. The meat was marinated in an "oriental sauce" based on vinegar and soy, grilled medium rare and served with slices of red onion, tomato, white rice, and French fries that tasted as though they'd recently seen the inside of a freezer.
The kitchen is run by Jose Luis Herrera, who came to the United States by winning a contest to be the personal chef for the Peruvian ambassador in Washington, D.C. Most recently, he served as chef for the Peruvian consul general in Miami.
Mixtura sits on the first floor of an Andalusia Avenue office building. Inside is a cathedral of a dining room with high ceilings and a column of tables lined up like pews. The room was flanked by two massive walls, one a Tetris game of blue, back-lit glass blocks with black-and-white pictures of old Lima, Peru's capital. The opposite was bone white with massive, 20-foot windows latticed with black crosshatching. A spokesperson for the restaurant said the aim was to look more modern, adding that it's why they painted the ceiling a candy-apple red. It doesn't explain the large, aged-looking pictures of Lima's gothic architecture.
La Cofradia also earned a New Times nod for best service in 2006. The waiters at Mixtura are courteous yet slow. It's not their fault; management opted on a weeknight to have only one tending the dining room. During one visit, we waited nearly ten minutes to be offered water and menus from the waitress, who was clearly struggling to manage the room by herself. A busboy darting about filling water and clearing plates told us he knew the menu back to front and was hoping to be a server one day. That night ought to have been his night, because the one server could've used his help.
Yet she was also the one who later gave us the good advice to mix the leftover sauce from our papa a la huancaína ($10) with our lomo saltado. The classic Peruvian potato dish brought the traditional mix of boiled potatoes covered in huancaína sauce, a creamy combination of aji amarillo, queso fresco, evaporated milk, and salt. The potatoes were well-cooked, not too mushy and not too firm, as was the hard-boiled egg. The sauce, however, was a touch bland and could've been helped by something as simple as another pinch of salt.
Despite the dining room filling to only half capacity on both visits, hot and cold dishes crawled out of the kitchen. Lomo saltado anticuchos ($14), two skewers of tenderloin marinated in a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, and spices, hit our table before the cold ceviche. Still, the appetizer was the high point of a high-priced meal. The meat was again cooked to a perfect medium rare, served atop three sticks of fried cassava — perfectly crisp on the outside and light and creamy on the inside — atop a pale green streak of ocopa, a sauce made of aji amarillo, evaporated milk, queso fresco, roasted peanuts, and huacatay, a Peruvian herb similar to mint and basil.
A pair of grilled octopus tentacles ($15) came paired with bland roasted potatoes, giant choclo corn kernels, and cubes of queso fresco. The octopus was undercooked, leaving it with a chewy, bouncy texture. It was coated in salsa anticuchera, a deep-red, almost burgundy-colored sauce made of chili pepper, red wine, crushed garlic, cumin, and oregano. Unfortunately, the thick sauce took away some of the char we looked forward to and gave each bite a slimy mouthfeel.
As it turns out, Mixtura has held onto the La Cofradia name in some instances, but not what earned it those accolades. There are plenty of other Peruvian restaurants in Miami offering authentic fare at lower prices. You won't get the modern dining room or the fabricated Spanish experience of Coral Gables, but you might receive a better meal.
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