Restaurant Reviews

The District Serves the Best Lechón in Buena Vista

For Miami, Nuevo Latino cuisine is a comfort food of sorts. Chefs take the ingredients we know -- the stuff we grew up on -- and cook them in ways that would make our mamas proud. Once mashed into our baby food, malanga is now deep-fried, shaped into shells, and piled with togarashi and raw tuna. Yuca swims in truffle honey, ceviche is cooled by citrus sorbet, and black trumpet mushrooms are made into chimichurri. What's worn becomes new again, like a re-framed family photograph.

The District is the latest Miami restaurant to peddle these dishes, though it also identifies with contemporary pan-American cuisine. And indeed, at this Buena Vista newcomer, you can taste a bit of California. Brussels sprouts are shredded, glazed with a fig balsamic vinegar, and finished with dried cranberries and toasted pinenuts. It is lovely, balanced with a sweet-and-sour smack that tickles the tongue.

But more memorable is the escabeche that tops other dishes. Sliced tomatoes and onions brighten thick slabs of pan-seared fish and slow-roasted pork. It's like a home cook's signature mojo -- only fancier and crowning a $20 plate.

Horacio Rivadero is the man behind this fusion. He once split his time between two kitchens -- working as the executive chef for the Dining Room and OLA at the Sanctuary Hotel. At the latter, he served under Doug Rodriguez, who's known as the father of Nuevo Latino cuisine. Then, last summer, the Dining Room closed and, shortly thereafter, Rivadero left OLA. He resurfaced at this new restaurant in October.

Here, Rodriguez's Nuevo Latino cuisine is tangled with Rivadero's international approach, which toys with the likes of farro, pickles, and quail eggs.

The District is nestled in a budding strip off of NE Second Avenue, a neighborhood where the pavement is jagged, houses are quaint, and restaurants are small and warm.

Rivadero's dining room rivals Mandolin Aegean Bistro as the fanciest of the bunch. Surrounded by brick-lined walls are dainty flowers in vases, tea lights in mason jars, and a bar that's packed with an after-work crowd. Most nights, the rowdy din of Spanish words floats past the narrow front porch.

Rivadero's cooking evades traditionalism by adding one or two new elements to every dish. Ceviche is offered in three varieties: cobia, corvina, and a blend of octopus, clams, and crab. The corvina is cut into thick chunks, doused in yuzu-lime juice with red onions and yellow lantern chilies, and served beneath a scoop of grapefruit sorbet. Often, this icy pairing can feel contrived. In Rivadero's hands, though, the sorbet perfectly balances the ceviche's tart marinade.

For his tartare, the chef takes a similar approach. He prepares it with raw lamb, a sweeter meat than beef, but otherwise employs conservative flavors, including capers, mustard, shallots, and golden slabs of toast.

The District's desserts follow the same pattern. In a dessert dubbed "Black Magic," beneath a shiny glaze of chocolate ganache, rich semisweet chocolate mousse holds a surprise: chewy, homemade marshmallows. A sweet potato-vanilla bean drizzle is delectable. It might encourage you to swap sweet potatoes for graham crackers the next time you make s'mores.

At times, Rivadero's measured formula can lack depth. Topped with pickled cabbage, his lobster malanga boat tacos are packed with too much mayonnaise and too little acid. His salads provide more balance. Golden and red beets are paired with goat cheese and then livened up with pickled raspberries and watercress. At first, his barely dressed green salad seems mundane, but jícama and mango lurk beneath the lettuces and provide a welcome crunch.

Slow-roasted pork shoulder lacks nothing. Cut into wide hunks, the pork boasts crisp edges and juicy, tender flesh -- seasoned with Haitian pikliz-inspired escabeche. Braised collard greens, added as a throwback to Afro-Cuban cuisine, and a white bean purée cradle the meat.

Rivadero's Caribbean jerk cobia might remind you of your favorite cozy Jamaican restaurant -- except it's plated alongside precise dollops of blue potato-goat cheese purée. The fish is perfectly cooked, its exterior crusted with bold spices that are smoky, spicy, pungent, and slightly sweet. And although Brussels sprouts make a nice side, Miami knows that few things can top yuca -- even if it's laced with truffle honey, garlic chips, and


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Emily Codik