La Mar: So Busy It Should Install a Revolving Door, but Does It Live Up To the Hype?

La Mar, noted chef Gaston Acurio's new restaurant located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Brickell Key, has been slammed with customers since it opened March 19.

The food is upscale gourmet Peruvian. Don't expect your abuela's causa. Twists on classic Peruvian dishes, such as lomo saltado served with potato wedges rather than shoestring or classic-cut french fries; deconstructed causas; and desserts such as chocolate mousse topped with caramelized quinoa and fruit ice bombs, set La Mar apart not only from your neighborhood Peruvian joint, but from Miami's upscale restaurants as well.

Appetizers, sides, and salads -- dishes normally cast in supporting roles -- were unexpected showstoppers. From a potato and ají amarillo (yellow pepper) purée served under a layer of grilled asparagus, to a chunky potato mash served under jumbo prawns, these supporting actors stole scene after scene.

See also: Q&A with La Mar's Executive Chef, Diego Oka

The sampler cebiche plate ($29) consists of nikei, classico, and criollo cebiches. Of the three, the nikei, tuna, red onions, nori, avocado, daikon, cucumber, and nikei tamarind leche de tigre (ceviche marinade); and the classico, fluke, cilantro, lima pepper, red onions, choclo (Peruvian corn), and classic tiger's milk; were standouts, particularly the nikei, with its obvious Asain influence and mild sweetness.

La Mar's deconstructed cangrejo causa ($14) consists of beet mash, fresh crab meat, avocado, cherry tomatoes, hardboiled quail egg, and fried kale, all drizzled with huancaína sauce. A light and refreshing dish perfect for Miami weather, but could use a bit more fried kale, which added a nice textural contrast to the other ingredients.

See also: Gaston Acurio On La Mar's Opening

Vegetarians have several options, such as La Mar's take on the caprese salad. The quinoa caprese ($15) plates beautifully with its colorful array of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, red quinoa, burrata, and ají amarillo vinaigrette, although it could use a tad less quinoa, or perhaps another choice for texture.

While side and starter dishes were superb, entrées were a bit underwhelming. The lomo saltado ($31), beef stir fry with white rice and potato wedges; paiche chorillana ($29), amazon fish, tamarind chorillana sauce, served mashed yuca with bacon, and adobo ($28), slow-cooked beef cheeks, ají amarillo paste, chicha (purple corn), and red onions stew; need some fine tuning.

They say it's all in the details, and La Mar definitely has these down pat. If it brings the menu's lead actors up to speed, La Mar will continue to be a sold-out show long after the initial hype quiets down.

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