Having already made inroads into giving Miamites a taste of upscale, modern Colombian cuisine, it was time for El Cielo chef Juan Manuel Barrientos to take on a new challenge: brunch. Fall where you will on the brunch debate –- a useless fourth meal best replaced by one of its constituent parts or a decadent affair fit for a king –- even brunch haters will have a hard time criticizing Barrientos’ latest creation.
Walk into the airy dining room filled with natural morning light and you’ll be greeted with a metal bucket filled with bottles of prosecco, Dom Perignon, and other bubbles best suited for washing down eggs, handmade sausages, and one incredible dessert. Now with a fully functioning patio, guests for El Cielo’s brunch have their choice of sitting outside watching the Sunday Funday crews take their boats out for a spin, or relaxing inside with a lively soundtrack to put you in the mood to eat.
Brunch at El Cielo comes in two formats. First, a full menu of sweet and savory delights is available to order a la carte, featuring items like fried pork with sweet plantains, roasted corn soup, or the always-delicious ropa vieja croquetas served with a side of peanut sauce for dipping. However, it’s the six-course brunch tasting that is the obvious star of the show. At just $75 for enough food to keep you full all day and unlimited mimosas to wash everything down, an afternoon on the river has never been this delicious.
The meal begins with a dose of chocolate therapy, a warm bath of chocolate poured over the hands then rinsed off, which leaves your hands smelling of cocoa for most of the day. It is an homage (albeit slightly akward) to one of Colombia’s greatest exports, cacao. And that’s it for tricks. Where dinner at El Cielo involves smoke under glass, plates of invisible gelatin, and plenty of modern culinary games, brunch is a straightforward affair, bursting with flavors both new and familiar.
Five courses follow the chocolate. The first is a plate of fruits including watermelon, apples and pears that have been compressed and infused with various liquors. Not at all overwhelming, it’s a balanced take on fruit salad that pairs nicely with a glass of prosecco and orange juice.
Barrientos’ take on lox and cream cheese is elegant, if not surprising, taken apart and made edible with fork and knife, each bite better than the last. Paired with a dusting of dried cilantro, the dish is ephemeral and light, a nice pause before the larger savory plates.
Salmon is followed by a bowl of french fries drizzled in truffle oil, a fried egg, and shaved parmesan. Where truffle oil can most often be cloyingly overused to overpower entire dishes, here the light touch transforms the dish into something far better than eggs and potatoes, a dish that this writer would go back for Sunday after Sunday.
Pace yourself. The final savory course is a plate of three expertly made sausages filled with rosemary, a small arepa, a dash of lime, all paired with tomato jam and herb pesto. At a moment when gastropubs across the U.S. can claim handmade sausages on their menu, it’s safe to say that very few will be as perfectly emulsified or cooked until they snap at the touch of a fork, as those at El Cielo. Deciding which savory course of the three is the best is no easy task. It’s better to simply make room and enjoy each for their abundance of flavor and technique.
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As you loosen your belt and slurp down one more mimosa, the final course is served. Brioche bread that has been toasted in olive oil is topped with a heaping ball of vanilla ice cream and basil, a hangover from the savory courses paired with subtle sweetness. As the ice cream melts onto the warm bread, the dough begins to soak in the cool cream taking on a pancake-like texture. Get a bite of the dense crust and pair it with the ice cream or just dive in and mash the whole thing together. Just eat the whole thing.
For those who have already experienced the theatre that is dinner at El Cielo, brunch is literally a night and day experience. Juan Manuel Barrientos shows off the extent of his culinary skill, paying homage to his mentors like Juan Mari Arzak by night, the big, bold flavors of classic American and Colombian breakfast fare by daylight. Now with a full schedule that includes lunch, brunch, and dinner, El Cielo can easily become a Brickell mainstay for innovative dining.