One of the bloggers here at Short Order recently wrote to Santa about the quality of service in Miami restaurants -- noting that we don't have any and we would really like some. Unfortunately, this is true across the board, whether you pick up a fork at a Sobe hotspot or grab a greasy spoon at a North Miami diner.
Recently, I had the pleasure of feeling old world. In the 12 seconds it took for me to get from my car to the front door of Milly's Restaurant, the host/server/maître d' spotted me and opened the door before I even had time to reach for the handle.
I may not fully understand why the caged bird sings, but I do understood why little-known Milly's, a Dominican hole in the wall on Calle Ocho, has catered for the Florida Marlins for the past nine years and is one of chef Doreen Colondres' three favorite places to eat in Miami.
The service at this "international," but primarily Dominican restaurant is just the e-ticket to an amazing dining experience. As I was led to my table, I was surrounded by classic, romantic Spanish music; I believe it was a bolero, coming from unseen speakers. I imagined ancient crooners lounging beyond my line of sight, happy to sing for their supper, and a couple of fingers of some quality whisky. The dim overhead lighting came from Tiffany-style fixtures, complementing the dark wood of the furniture and the wine red of the drapes. There is an intimate, relaxed appeal to Milly's, one that we Miamians are not accustomed to in our T.G.I.Friday's world.
Upon the owner's recommendation, I tried "Miami's best mofongo." Like Hector said, Puerto Ricans invented this mashed plantain dish, but Dominicans borrowed it. He suggested the fried pork chunks as an accompaniment. The plate ($9.75) took its time coming out, but not in a rude way--more like a shy beauty takes her time coming down the stairway on prom night.
Fried pork chunks are made in almost every Latin country, with a few variations. Cubans like their chunks big, seasoned with salt, garlic and mojo. Nicaraguans season theirs with achiote, giving them that deep burnt orange color. The fried pork chunks at Milly's were simple, probably seasoned with a base of salt and lemon or homemade mojo, fried perfectly, and draped with leis of sautéed onions--also perfectly cooked--translucent but not caramelized. Next to this mound of fried, salty pork, was a perfectly shaped little mound of mofongo.
I normally eat Gallego-style--a Cuban term describing someone who consecutively takes a bite of each item on their plate instead of consuming them individually in turn, but here I had trouble straying from the mofongo. It was a little sweet, salty, soft, and crusty. It took my mouth on an epicurean tour from which it did not want to return. About halfway through my meal, I noticed a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the table and encountered another dilemma -- to sauce or not to sauce? The sharp, bitter Tabasco added an extra layer of contrast to the mofongo. But did I want that? Or did I want to remain in an uncomplicated gastronomical paradise?
Simplicity won out and I enjoyed the rest of my meal in a pleasurable silence--except for the sounds of love coming from the hidden speakers and the satisfied humming coming from my mouth.