With plenty of fish in the sea, options are plentiful -- finding that special catch is no easy task. Miami isn't lacking seafood restaurants, but there are some that keep themselves well hidden. Take AltaMare, the Italian-inspired "hook-to-table" seafood joint that's décor exudes an pretentious air but the food is down-to-earth, or in this case, sea.
AltaMare isn't new -- Claudio Giordano and wife Kaituska are celebrating a 12-year run. In 2010, they moved down the block into a bigger space due to the demand for Giordano's fresh daily specials and house-made pasta. Four years later, and for the first time ever, the restaurant is offering a happy hour. It's their way of celebrating their revamped dining room and one step closer to lunch service, which we hope AltaMare will one day brave.
AltaMare's summer nights start at 5 and go through 7 p.m., although the restaurant stays open later for dinner. Happy hour, which features $6 drinks, wine, and prosecco, can be had in AltaMare's bar or out in their terrace. Say you're parched after a day at the beach -- head over in your swimsuit and kick back some half-priced oysters while enjoying the summer
Sitting down with Giordano, it's impossible to not talk about fish. This man is as passionate about the sea as we are about food. His goal with AltaMare is to turn it into a place people think of when they think oysters. Blame it on the book he's currently reading -- The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky. "I want this to be the oyster place on the beach," Giordano said. "We will be enforcing the oyster, and as more people come so will more oysters. I want to have maybe ten different oysters, and then we'll see if there's room for more."
There are currently four on menu -- Kushi, Kumamoto, Blue Point and Beau Soleil -- and they range from $3 to $3.65 ($1.50 for happy hour). Giordano has also been consistently getting Malpeque oysters. Make sure to take advantage of the rocoto hot sauce that's imported from Peru -- it's unbelievably spicy. Also on the happy hour menu, a 12-oz fried snapper for $9 and fish and chips for ten bucks.
The fish will change depending on what Giordano's fisherman catches that morning. "I like to get the less known fish and highlight that, giving people a taste of something they may have not had before." Such is the case with triggerfish, which is tasty and meaty like lobster. "My guys bring this fresh to me. You can always tell how fresh a fish is when you look at it in the eye," he said.
A wahoo crudo ($7 during happy hour) speaks to the elegance of the new interior and lets the fish shine. Dressed with avocado, olive oil, house-made grated bottarga and preserved Buddha's hand, it's an exotic and refreshing dish. Confused about the bottarga and Buddha's hand? Bottarga is cured fish roe -- think Italian caviar. Buddha's hand is what a lemon and an octopus would have if they made a baby. It's a citrus plant with fingers and just a small piece on the fish gives it a tart taste.
What began as a renovation for the kitchen turned into a whole restaurant make over. "This is like our house, so sometimes you feel like you want to make changes," Girodano said. "We spend most of the time here in the restaurant so we wanted to feel more at ease."
Unfortunately, AltaMare isn't open for lunch -- during our conversation Giordano had to turn down a group of ten and another party of five who knocked on the door. His focus is and has always been dinner. He uses the daytime to prep and cook himself before being the face of the restaurant at night. Twice a month, Giordano braves the sea with his fisherman who takes him out to local waters to keep him in shape. "I used to do it a lot more before," he said. "Now I go once or twice a month so I don't forget how to scuba dive."
AltaMare foregoes the traditional crab cakes and instead opts for grouper and cheeks with a bit of mango relish and mustard sauce to form its own cake, just $7 during happy hour.
One can never have enough fish. A daily special, the local big eye tuna tartare ($22) features taggiasca olives -- an unusual combination for tuna tartare. The key here is to mix them in with the tuna as they are served on the side. Remember that hot sauce from the oysters? Put it to good use here.
Not a happy hour item but a must have is the wild mushroom ravioli. As with all their pastas, ravioli is made in house from scratch; this dish is drenched in cheesy piave vecchio truffle cream sauce. "If it's someone first time at AltaMare this is the dish I always recommend," Giordano said.
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Short rib lasagna with goat cheese and tomato sauce is just as good. Get a half-size portion during happy hour for $8.
AltaMare's tiramisu is different than the traditional Italian dessert. Commercial lady fingers are too rough, so AltaMare makes their own recipe -- when you pour coffee and Bailey's over, it soaks right in.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha