Brickell's newest fish and seafood emporium, Mare Nostrum, is importing everything from the chef (Pedro Gallardo moved here a little over two months ago from Murcia, Spain) to the tuna, which has to be frozen at minus sixty degrees Fahrenheit in order to make the trip, but more on that later.
The focus here is on fresh fish and seafood, prepared simply, although there are dishes for carnivores as well. An immense menu offers a mix of traditional Spanish bites, from croquetas (the real kind, more ham paste-y than potato'd up) to paella, as well as many classic Italian dishes such as spaghetti vongole ($22.95) and porcini risotto ($23.95).
The plates are all extremely pretty and the restaurant itself is airy, with high ceilings and touches of Mediterranean blueness abounding. Arguably the most gorgeous thing about this place is the kitchen, which seems to run on for miles. We wondered how it could be possible to execute a menu of Mare Nostrum's size, until Gallardo explained that the monster kitchen is staffed by a total of forty-two people.
As soon as you enter the main dining room, a glass case of fish and seafood greets your eye. Some have heads attached, while others have been butchered into slabs already, giving a glimpse of the fatty flesh inside. It's all beautiful, but we fell in love with some giant Tiger shrimp, which were grilled and topped with a generous seasoning of sea salt.
A squeeze of fresh lemon melted into the crevices, these prawns gave their life for some seriously good eating. All fish case and raw bar (oysters, crab legs) are priced by the ounce ($14.95 - $28.95).
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The blue fin tuna "toro" is flown from Spain in specially outfitted packaging that maintains negative sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Upon arrival at Mare Nostrum, the tuna is immediately placed in a huge chiller that slowly brings up the temperature over a forty-eight hour period. It is served on an onion confit that did compete a bit with the fish's flavor, but since this is a meaty loin, we understand the need for some heft on the other components ($29.95).
A spicy Spanish version of vongole ($22.95); there was plenty of pepper infused oil in this dish and plump clams that were clean as can be; all the seafood here is carefully prepped, lots of liquor in the oysters, and not a trace of clam sand in sight.
Just to prove that they can do meat too, this 24 hour slow cooked pork is sous vide on the bone, steeped into its' own juices, and then sous vide again off the bone. A final crisp top reminded us of a duck confit presentation. Speaking of confit, the potatoes underneath were soft and starchy, and those juices get reduced down to a thick gravy that salts up the spuds nicely.