La Cofradia Ceviche Bar
- European, Fusion, Peruvian
- Cheerful din
The name means brotherhood, and the brothers who opened La Cofradia, Jean Paul and Jean Pierre Desmaison Cornejo, are clearly intent on creating a warm, welcoming experience for their guests.
I was immediately impressed by the exceptionally friendly and attentive service. The hostess addressed me by name (or rather my alias) and escorted us to a table that was set for our 8:30 reservation. On a night when we came without one, the staff was equally welcoming.
The dining room -- a narrow, airy space beside the popular Fleming's steakhouse just off Miracle Mile -- is outfitted with dramatic black slate floors, sexy lighting, walnut paneling and an oversized ceiling mural of Ingres' exotic Reclining Odalisque. It should feel opulent but instead seems cold, with no cozy nooks, oversized banquettes or other inviting spots.
The moment my girlfriend and I were seated, a pair of waiters replaced our white linen napkins with black ones so our black outfits wouldn't be marred by stray threads. Little touches like that are so rare in Miami that they deserve mention.
The kitchen, too, was accommodating, happy to split dishes and switch accompaniments. And while the staff is unpolished, they seem sincerely eager to please. Ultimately, though, high prices coupled with inconsistent cooking make this place hard to embrace.
The dishes are created from a palette of Peruvian and Mediterranean ingredients, and some, like fall-off-the-bone-tender fried pork with peeled baby grapes and pisco, are inventive and delightful. The most successful are the simplest, like the platter of assorted ceviches and the sole tiradito with creamy, bright yellow aji chile sauce and Mandarin creme.
Despite the missing pears on two visits, the light and luscious manchego salad is one I would come back for. A handful of snappy sunflower seeds and a smooth, sweet vinaigrette paired perfectly with the very fresh and crisp baby greens.
The octopus salad was another standout. The tiny, tender tentacles were soft and rosy from a soak in tomatoes, onions, lime juice and wine, with tiny capers, lots of thyme and excellent olive oil adding even more flavor.
The signature risotto, on the other hand, was made with long-grain rathern than arborio rice, overcooked until mushy and adorned with a dry, mealy, out-of-season Florida lobster tail in a shell smaller than my thumb. A saffron-yellow chile sauce added gorgeous color but little flavor.
Likewise, a much-touted black lasagne with shrimp was a disappointment. For $34, a pasta dish had better deliver more than a pinkie-size, chalky-tasting crayfish and a bland cream sauce.
A lamb shank looked majestic in its tiny puddle of rich red-wine reduction but tasted gamey. Instead of falling off the bone, the meat had to be clawed off, and there was not enough sauce to hydrate it.
The wine list has some compelling selections from Spain, Italy, California and South America, but again, the prices -- at least three times retail -- are tough to swallow. On one visit our waiter brought out two bottles that didn't match the vintage promised on the list. He handled the gaffe apologetically and politely. (So, too, when we pointed out that some of the prices on our bill did not match the menu.)
Dessert was the most unqualified success. The suspiro de limena (''sigh of a lady of Lima'') had the lusty sweetness of dulce de leche, while a mellow goat-cheese cheesecake drizzled with an intensely flowery honey and raspberries was a miracle of understatement. The earthy lucuma mousse made from a Peruvian fruit with a pumpkin-like flavor was well-composed, gorgeously balancing tart fruit, sugar and cream.
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