OLA's Polished Staff and Artful Ceviche Shine

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Tucked away inside the Sanctuary Hotel in

Miami Beach, OLA is tidy in name, appearance, and cuisine. Chef and owner Douglas Rodriguez, or "El Jefe" as the menu refers to him,

oversees the menu with executive chef Horacio Rivadero, who kindly

came out of the kitchen and invited us to a tasting of the menu.

Starting things off were a couple of

cocktails. The traditional Cuban mojito ($14) is made with Don Q rum,

lime, mint, and sugar. It's a well-balanced mojito served in an oversize rocks glass. The vodkajito ($14) is made with Charbay

pomegranate vodka, pomegranate purée, lime, and mint. It is both a

unique take on the traditional and not overly done-up with the

pomegranate, as the description might suggest.

The atmosphere is fun, upbeat, and

playful. Our server, Jackson, displayed an accommodating

attitude, as did others on the staff. His

menu knowledge was strong, and he made educated suggestions.

A tasting of six ceviches came first:

hamachi ($18), lobster ($20), rainbow ($18), fire and ice ($18),

mixto ($18), and tuna and foie gras ($20). The lobster, with chili-spiced cucumber, lime juice, fresh corn, and tarragon beurre-blanc, was a favorite. The most traditional ceviche on the menu is the mixto, composed of shrimp, octopus, and cobia in lime, orange juice, limo pepper,

cilantro, kalamata olives and served with yuca à la huancaína. Also

impressive was the tuna and foie gras with kumquat-yuzu sauce, lemon

oil, serrano chilies, and baby arugula.

Between courses, the OLA mojito

($14), with Don Q Limón rum, lime, mint, and sugar, was brought out. It

had a surprisingly different and noticeably refreshing quality. The

cojito ($14) is made with coconut rum, lime juice, mint; comes

strained; and is served with a sugar rim and lime wheel. It has a

potent coconut flavor and is a strong drink.

A tasting of starters included smoked marlin tacos ($18), with rum vanilla, cured-smoked in a crisp malanga boat with pickled jalapeños. They were definitely a favorite, along with the foie gras empanada ($15), made with anise dough, almond-fig cake stuffed with foie gras, duck serrano and served with frisée salad and

black trumpet vinaigrette. The mystery meat balls ($20), with

callampa mushroom sauce, are moist and flavorful but perhaps too pricey to stand on their own as a full-size appetizer. The chicharrón ($17), comprising crisp rock shrimp tossed in sweet and spicy panca sauce

with micro cilantro, was a nice appetizer full of taste and texture.

Falling short of expectations were the king crab salad ($20) and duck

salad ($17).

The entrées tasted included plantain-crusted mahi ($32) over braised oxtail stew -- which was so

delicious it could stand on its own -- and tomato escabeche. The

filet mignon churrasco ($42) was a tasty cut of meat with a dressing

of chipotle crabmeat and chimichurri that hid the flavor of the beef.

The sugar-cane tuna ($36) was tastefully adobo-rubbed and seared, and served over

malanga goat cheese fondue, spinach, and shrimp escabeche. The lamb

loin ($42) was herb-crusted and served over crisp blue potato, with

an artichoke salad, goat cheese soufflé, and lamb demi. The

individual components are to be appreciated, but there's a lot going

on with the dish overall.

OLA's desserts are $12 each and include

the deconstructed key lime pie, which is a unique twist on

traditional key lime pie that could use the irreplaceable graham

cracker crust. The flan de queso ice cream has a curious list of

ingredients, such as pistachio cake, mixed berry salad, guava foam,

and balsamic vinegar reduction sauce. Perhaps the best dessert was

the banana tres leches with passion fruit sauce and fresh bananas.

Although the portions in relation to value

was indeterminable owing to the tasting sizes, one can't go

wrong with OLA, where the food is artistic but not pretentious, the

atmosphere displays a touch of class, and even the busboys have manners.

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