A man in a pink button-up and slicked-back hair raises a flute of rosé cava and whispers into the ear of the young blonde perched beside him. She sports a perfectly teased topknot and tilts her head ever so slightly to angle her cheek in the direction of his lips. Four other people sit at their table, but the impeccably groomed lovers pay them little heed. To their left, a large Spanish-speaking party with rambunctious children passes around tapas and toasts to another occasion.
Over by the freestanding bar, 20 or so fresh-faced guys with loosened ties and girls in pencil skirts mingle long after happy hour has ended. The office crowd seems oblivious to the basketball game playing on the flat-screen TV sets.
Near the open kitchen, Ferran Lozano, the resident DJ from Barcelona, spins house music. His hair is the color of salt and pepper, and his T-shirt depicts a scantily clad female from the waist down. She wears a garter belt and a videogame console stuffed down her panties. Like the DJ's work? You can find Lozano's playlists on the restaurant's website.
At Perfecto, a gastrobar on Brickell Avenue, the mood is celebratory and the food is a modern riff on Catalan classics. It's the brainchild of Oscar Manresa, a chef-restaurateur from Barcelona with 20 years of experience. He chose Miami for his first international venture because the cities share a similar climate and culture.
Since Perfecto's opening in June, Manresa has been spending one week per month overseeing it. He says he's dined at several Spanish spots in the city, but none has rivaled The Bazaar by José Andrés. Manresa openly looks up to the James Beard Award-winning chef and calls Andrés "the real representative of the Spanish new cuisine in the United States."
Adamant about serving authentic fare, Manresa plucked Perfecto's chef de cuisine, Daniel Torres, from Barcelona. Torres was working at the Michelin-starred Catalan restaurant Hofmann. Manresa's other goal is to provide guests with an awe-inducing dining experience he compares to attending the theater. "I want guests to say 'ooh' and 'aah' two or three times," he explains.
The staff at Perfecto, including chef de cuisine, Daniel Torres (third from left).
Sure enough, Perfecto's interior elicits the first "ooh" of the evening. With its vertiginous ceilings, modern art, and orchids so massive they appear to have been genetically modified, the industrial-style room is stunning. Bouquets of lush red roses, red wall panels, and a burgundy banquette festooned with striped pillows liven up the wooden walls and furniture. There's even a spacious terrace with additional TV screens and an area for lounging.
After you sufficiently ogle the surroundings, libations are in order. Named after the DJ, the Ferran blends fresh tomato, watermelon, simple syrup, sea salt, Worcestershire sauce, manzanilla (a type of Spanish sherry), and vodka. It's refreshing at first, but after a few sips the disconnect among the ingredients becomes apparent. Also available is the peach-and-pear-infused Tanqueray ten, one of the many gin-and-tonic-based cocktails offered. It's significantly smoother, and the accompanying individual-size bottle of Fever Tree tonic water is a nice touch.
From the tapas-heavy menu, the avocado cannelloni is a must. Just don't expect to find any pasta. Inside an exoskeleton of interwoven avocado slices lie morsels of lump crabmeat enhanced with diced tomatoes, microgreens, and ginger. It's deserving of the night's second "ooh" and speaks of the kitchen's ability to create high-caliber, refined dishes.
Perfecto's shrimp "ravioli" are also carbohydrate-free. The peeled crustaceans come curved in the form of dumplings hunched over a velvety wild mushroom stuffing. Manresa says he likes his food to contain an element of surprise, but this tapa fails to impress due to rubbery-tasting shrimp. Much better are the gently fried beef meatballs portioned with cuttlefish in a wine sauce.
The popular octopus "Perfecto" follows suit. It's cooked with whiskey in lieu of water and placed atop roasted potato spheres. Though a lighter hand with the paprika would have been preferred, the tender octopus is a crowd pleaser.
In the section of the menu titled "More Than Tapas," there are entrées such as stuffed salmon with bacon and Gorgonzola, lamb chops with hash browns, Iberian pork, and filet mignon. And of course there's paella -- three types.
Upon the cheery waiter's recommendation, I tried the seafood fideuà. Angel-hair-thin noodles replace rice in this paella-like main course. The silky strands of creamy pasta are delectable, as are the tiny orbs of baby squid. However, the clams and snapper lacked vibrancy, while the shrimp were rubbery once again.
Like the majority of items at Perfecto, the fideuà is intended for sharing, so it's best to arrive in a group. Every Thursday is ladies' night, which features bottomless free champagne. The atmosphere is certainly conducive to festive soirees, though you can just as easily enjoy a more casual affair here. A word of advice: Make sure ahead of time that your guests don't mind a side of house music with their meal. Yes, you can hear the DJ's remixes from the terrace. No, he doesn't spin during lunch, so you can talk business then.
For dessert, the ganache de chocolate is lovely with its mousse-like texture. Use the accompanying toast for dipping, and taste the subtle notes of olive oil and sea salt. Other desserts include tiramisu and chocolate lava cake with homemade vanilla ice cream.
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Manresa says he came up with the name "Perfecto" because the restaurant combines all the best elements of his other restaurant concepts. Indeed, there's plenty to like about his Brickell eatery, and the attention to detail with respect to the food and design is evident. Though certain seafood dishes need improvement, and nothing sampled inspired a third "ooh," you can eat very well at Perfecto and have a blast in the process.
Follow Valeria Nekhim on Twitter @ValeriaNekhim