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
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
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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.