Meal after restaurant meal can get tedious. It’s easy for a professional eater-outer to get bored or, worse, jaded. But every once and a while, a passionate young chef comes along to rev up the excitement. Horacio Rivadero is one of those talents. He worked under Douglas Rodriguez, Miami’s own Nuevo Latino guru, for a decade and then moonlighted at the pocket-sized Dining Room before popping up at a South Beach hotel.
He’s now behind the stoves and part owner of The District, an ambitious newcomer just north of the Design District in Buena Vista that holds promise and some lovely Pan Latin/Caribbean dishes. The food, in a mishmash of styles, can stray from the promised local ingredients, but dishes are generally full of dynamic flavors and subtle contrasts. Everything from a monster burger laden with Benton’s bacon and Vermont Cheddar to a 24-ounce Jackman Ranch rib-eye with sun-dried tomato chimichurri sound appealing, and some of it is done exceptionally well.
Ambience: The walls of the converted 1950s house (home to Alan Hughes’ One Ninety a decade ago) are newly lined with fresh-cut oak and brick, lending a warm hominess. High, wood-beamed ceilings are painted in stunning black and white murals, while other works by local artists lend playful bursts of color. Gently twinkling star-burst chandeliers are flattering but allow guests to see the menus and each other. Outside seats are even more appealing if the weather is right.
- Sweet, cheesy puffs of Colombian pan de bono that greets every diner
- Lovely ceviches and crudos with seasonings running the gamut from Asian to Mediterranean, Mexican, American and Peruvian
- The trio of little lobster tacos served in crispy shells made from fried discs of malanga that are stuffed with sweet meat in a creamy dressing with hints of aji amarillo and topped with pickled cabbage shreds and crispy shallots
- A luscious corvina ceviche that is tarted up with yuzu juice, plenty of red onion, hot pepper and a scoop of bracing grapefruit sorbet
- Fresh and snappy salads
- Cast-iron octopus – tender tentacles propped on quinoa and dotted with dime-sized tabs of roasted eggplant puree that could have been more plentiful
- Beautifully juicy, gently seared cobia fillet that gets a lick of jerk seasoning for kick, mashed blue potatoes for color and calm and hearts of palm escabeche-style for crunch
- Afro-Cuban pork – a generous hunk of slow-roasted shoulder meat served over braised collard greens and a smooth white bean mash. I miss the pickled red onion and chunky brown mustard seeds of the Dining Room version, but this dish is still pure comfort
- A sweet, sassy and pretty little mason jar of quatro leches with macadamia nuts
- The Black Magic – a small log of chocolate mousse studded with marshmallows and covered in ganache
- An extensive selection of local brews and craft sodas that makes for fun exploration
- A young crew that is sweet, good-looking and well-intentioned
What Didn’t Work
- Insipid mango on a green salad
- An exclusively New World wine list that might be a drawback for connoisseurs
- Prices that can outpace the experience,
- A staff that does not always rise to the chef’s heights
- Dishes that come out in random order, with sides showing up before appetizers; one night, the bread didn’t arrive until after we had asked for our check.