Language Barriers at Lizarran in Coral Gables

​We realize this critique may spark some ire, but what the hell. We're just going to say it: Servers need to freakin' speak at least basic English if they are "serving" in our country. Yes, even in Miami and yes, even at a restaurant serving ethnic food. Do I speak Spanish? No. Do I want to learn? Yes. Do I love the culture? Yes. Very much so (especially Latin men!). But even if I became fluent in the language, I'd still feel the same.

This issue rose to top of mind the other night when we were dining at Lizarran, the new tapas place in Coral Gables. Our server seemed sweet enough but the language barrier caused our meal to become nearly a comedy of errors.

Once we found the restaurant, we strolled in to find it all dressed up with no place to go. Meaning, it's decorated nicely and polished to a shine, however, with only two gentlemen sitting at the bar and no other soul in sight the room seemed nearly barren. We eventually sat at a booth overlooking what appeared to be sushi displays, only to realize that the lit cases held plates of pinchos and tapas.

The server greeted us with two pinchos on a plate and a smile. We smiled back, asked her what was on the plate, and she just smiled and walked away. Uh, were these complimentary then? Does everyone get these slices of bread with dilled cream cheese rolled inside salmon and this ham-looking thing over red pepper and cucumber? Fortunately, the flavors were nice so we didn't need to get too inquisitive.

When she returned to get our order, she couldn't give us any recommendations or suggestions. That saddened us because, presuming she was Spanish, we would've certainly loved getting advice from someone who grew up eating the cuisine. But what if servers can't understand we want our coffee decaffeinated or our tomatoes on the side or no eggs because we have allergies? There's the rub.

We took our chances and ordered potato chips with fresh anchovies and green olives ($6) -- assuming we'd just have to figure out what the "Lizarran sauce" is when we tasted it -- and lightly battered eggplant with honey ($7). We also couldn't resist ordering the wacky alcachofas con jamon ($5), fried artichokes and Serrano ham over "Spanish potatoes." We also wanted the gazpacho Andaluz ($6), but she made the signal that there was none available.

Since you may not be able to communicate with your server, either, we'll break down what the aforementioned will be: 1) the potato chip dish is pretty good and the "special sauce" is, we presume, mostly made with a red pepper base; 2) the eggplant with honey is just so-so -- our eggplant was undercooked and the combination of flavors was odd, though the presentation was nice; 3) the artichoke plate was our favorite, though the "Spanish potatoes" were regular French fries. The ham on top was crispy and the artichokes, blessedly, weren't battered so the palate got a nice treat of softness, crunchiness, and acidity.

The server came back with a plate of various pinchos asking us, "Would we like?" but we couldn't figure out from her if they were complimentary, nor what the varieties were, so we passed. And after we had to order our water "con gas" because "sparkling," "Perrier," and "San Pellegrino" weren't translating. Once it arrived we were too frustrated to have to explain that the glass should be tossed because it had a chip on its lip.

The gazpacho eventually did arrive after all, but it was really disappointing. The bowl was filled only with a cold, garlicky, texture-less orange-red juice. Then, a moment later, a plate arrived with ramekins of chopped red and green peppers, onions, and croutons. "I typically like it when the restaurant makes my food," exclaimed a gal at our table and we burst out giggling. We typically like ours ready made, too. This issue rose again when our almond cake ($6) appeared with a shot glass of wine. Were we supposed to pour it over? Dip forkfuls in? Shoot it? After a few attempts we just gave up and put the forks down.

When a manager came by later to ask how we enjoyed everything, we thought we would do her the favor of being honest so we mentioned the communication issue. At first she seemed apologetic, but then she added, "Well, you are in Miami." Thanks for the reminder.

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Riki Altman