La Fonda Pops Up at the Marlin Hotel (Photos)

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Nightlife veteran Tatanka Guerrero is no stranger to the pop-up concept. In 2013, he gave the South of Fifth neighborhood a much-needed place to imbibe with Radio (before it was sold to Menin Hospitality). He followed up with the members-only Sweetwater Beer Garden perched on a courtyard between the Ansonia and Plymouth hotels.

Now, the Chilean-born, Miami-bred entrepreneur is popping up once again, this time with a gastronomic concept at the historic Marlin Hotel by the name of La Fonda. "In every South American slang, fonda means a gathering under a hut or same roof," he says. "The idea is to create a social space and fill it with food and drink."

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The Marlin Hotel, built in 1939, is home to the renowned South Beach Studios. "A lot of hip-hop icons and important artists of our time have recorded in this studio," says Guerrero. "It made sense for us because we're all about music, food, and art." Case in point, the space is awash in graffiti by local artist Joey Diaz. Combined with psychedelic lighting and groovy tunes, it's the kind of place you don't mind hanging out for a while.

We hit up La Fonda this past Monday, during its one night of soft opening. Kazuo Yoshida of Brooklyn's 1 or 8 turned the place into a sushi bar for the night. "The idea is to bring in guest chefs throughout the pop-up, especially during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival." Think Latin American chefs the likes of Jose Mendin, whom Guerrero has invited. "We want this to be a greenroom for the chefs and foodies to come eat and drink." During my visit, culinary darling Michelle Bernstein, 25-year-old Alex Chang from Vagabond, and David Foulquier from the soon to open Fooq's all dined at the sushi bar.

As for the food, the menu pulls from Guerrero's Chilean background and fuses Miami flavors. On nights when a guest chef is in the kitchen, the menu will be a mash-up of the various cultures. "We'll have off-menu specials every single night though."

Monday evening, that included these beautiful heirloom tomatoes enhanced by a Chilean chimichurri-like sauce. "It's like chimichurri but not really. I'd say it's more of a green chili sauce." Whatever it is, it proved how complex something as simple as tomatoes can be. "In Chile, this is poor people food."

Details at La Fonda exude a sense of cool. White linen is covered by butcher paper and a different set of salt and pepper shakers grace every table. Glassware and plates are vintage and have been sourced from antique shops, and servers are wearing dope kicks and snapbacks.

Kazuo Yoshida's Japanese menu included shisho truffle edamame, scallop tiradito, and an explosive yellowtail ceviche ($18). The latter combined the fresh fish with shibazuke (pickled egg plane), red onion, daikon, rice cracker, and chive oil.

In addition to fresh sashimi and sushi, Yoshida rolled up two creations: a spicy tuna and salmon tartare roll. The salmon tartare ($16) was unlike any sushi roll I've ever had before. An abundance of flavors (salmon, mango, avocado, grapefruit, red tabico, crispy rice, sweet tofu cream, and sweet chili) left us feeling perplexed yet satisfied.

The Chilean side of the family-style menu boasted heartier dishes to complement and balance the light and delicate Japanese fare. On it, items like chorizo pork belly soup begged to be ordered, but the label "heavy duty" combined with Guerrero's warning of the dish -- "It'll put you to sleep" -- had us go for the ropa nueva ($16) instead. The modern version of ropa vieja is less heavy and saucy than the original, but abound with zest. Shredded juicy steak is perfectly cooked and oozing in flavor thanks to a pomegranate star anise reduction; rice isn't the traditional white type but a faint yellow due to some powerful saffron seasoning; and slivers of green mango coupled with crumbles of feta cheese crumbs and red shisho finish the dish off.

There's also a catch of the day (fried grouper on our visit) served with La Fonda coleslaw and ginger avocado Serrano pepper sauce ($14). But we went for the matadero skillet ($19): New York tenderloin served sizzling in a skillet (and for you to flip over) with fried rice and scallions. Sopaipillas (Chilean fried pastry) shared space on the skillet, melting away as the slab of beef cooked and infusing the meat with its flavor pedigree. A teriyaki soy and the same pobre sauce from the tomatoes accompanied the plate and act as a dipping agent for the meat.

Cocoa milk spiked with cinnamon was the perfect nightcap to a donut filled with pastry cream, torched caramelized sugar, cinnamon pretzels, and vanilla ice cream.

La Fonda's next seating will take place this Sunday. The pop-up will close Monday and reopen Tuesday and every night thereafter for the next couple of months or until further notice from 6 to 11 p.m. (2 a.m. during SoBeWFF). To get the scoop on guest chefs or for reservations call 305-788-8011.

Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha

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