As construction pushes ahead on the massive Brickell City Centre, restaurant offerings are looking, well, up. After nearly two years of waiting and speculation, Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos' El Cielo is now open on SE Fifth Street.
Combining the flavors and ingredients of his home country with modern techniques and stunning decor, it is the latest addition in a wave of high-end restaurants. Along with the forthcoming Coya, slated for a late-February opening, El Cielo will usher in an era of Latin cuisine that moves beyond ceviche and taco stands.
The "El Cielo project," as the chef lovlingly refers to it, began with the opening of the first location in Medellín, Colombia, in 2007. Recently returned from a stint at the widely lauded Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain, Barrientos and his family set to making a restaurant. They took advantage of the success of the location they had opened in Bogotá in 2011. The Miami outpost of El Cielo is the third for Barrientos, his first outside Colombia. And he's only 31 years old.
"I came to Miami two years ago for the first time ever. A bunch of people had been telling me that when I saw Miami for the first time, I would fall in love because it has my personality. And when I came two years ago, I fell in love with the city. And I knew I wanted El Cielo here. It's been around two years from the start of the dream to making it happen," said Barrientos, already looking toward the future. However, his focus remains on El Cielo.
The restaurant is officially open, though still in a soft-opening phase. For now, diners can take part in a 15-course tasting menu for $125, with complimentary glasses of wine as the restaurant awaits the approval of its liquor license. Even without the wine, dishes such as tuna sashimi with crisp quinoa and pineapple aioli, and Colombian yuca bread stuffed with cheese and served with a coconut salsa, are more than enough to please.
Via Instagram, Barrientos has been releasing photos of dishes as he continues to develop the menu and incorporate local ingredients into his larder. "More than 1,500 flavors and smells make up our 'Library of Flavors,' a place that was born from our travels through Colombia and Latin America by taking trips, eating trips, feeling trips in order to later bring them to the table and take you on a gastro-journey," he said of the photos. El Cielo promises to be one of the most exciting openings of the year.
Eventually, the 60-seat space will offer brunch, lunch, and the option of 10- or 15-course dinner tastings, with a full bar program featuring everything from interactive cocktails to sorbet laced with pomegranate and champagne. Set on the bank of the Miami River, well away from the noise and construction of SE Fifth Street, the patio will make a great summer retreat for cocktails and snacks.
Reservations at El Cielo can be made via OpenTable or by calling 305-755-8840.