NIU Kitchen: Catalan Tapas Spot Shows Promise for Downtown Dining

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A trio of braised pork cheeks, quivering between luscious dollops of potato foam, almost melts into the plate. The foam is one of a few appearances of modernist cooking technique, which is championed by some of Spain's Michelin-starred kitchens. Lomas boils potatoes in salted water with a dash of olive oil and whips them with cream and red and black truffle shavings before loading the mixture into a whipped-cream charger and dispensing it as a rich yet light foam onto the plate. The cheeks are seared, braised with a mirepoix in red wine, and doused in a slightly sweet demi-glace made from their own juices before serving.

Potato foam appears again in an egg dish simply called "ous," or "egg" in Catalan. A fist-size bowl is filled with the fluffy white cream, which hides salty slivers of jamón ibérico and two soft-poached eggs. The rich, runny yolks mingle beautifully with the earthy flecks of grated black truffle that seem to float magically atop the dish.

The unexpected delights continue into dessert with a small tilted glass cup of goat "cottage" cheese called mató. The tangy, salty curds rest atop sweet eggplant shards and are crowned with crunchy toasted hazelnuts and honey. It's the ideal dessert for the diner who often rejects the cloying final course. A squeeze of lemon intensifies the cheese's slightly sour notes, counterbalancing the sweet elements.

Like the tomato soup, it's a dish with which Lomas wanted to gamble. Along with the rest of Niu's constantly changing menu, these two dishes are winners thanks to elegant preparations that coax the best flavors from each ingredient and then marry them in sensible, easy-to-enjoy combinations. Iglesias' warm service makes you feel like you know her and have visited her restaurant twice a week for a dozen years.

The space is perfect for what downtown is becoming. It is intimate enough for a date but not too romantic to visit with friends. It is creative enough to satisfy the thrill-seeking diner but not outlandish enough to limit clientele.

It is a bit of light in an otherwise dim downtown Miami. Let's hope it won't glow alone for long.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson

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