In junior high, I was friends with a girl so beautiful she actually glowed with an iridescence that sparkled off her tan skin and golden hair. How did she do it with little more than a splash of water and some Bonne Bell lip gloss?
The new KLIMA Restaurant and Bar in Miami Beach possesses that same kind of effortless perfection — or nearly so.
Money and talent combined to convert a space on 23rd Street that some have called cursed into a gorgeous girl next door. Klima has that rare combination of elegance and ease that makes it so inviting.
It’s billed as contemporary gastronomy from Barcelona (founders Pablo Fernández-Valdés and Yago Giner teamed with culinary adviser Albert Ventura). But don’t expect El Bulli-inspired foams and spheres. Chef David “Rusti” Rustarazo (pictured) embraces many styles to create flavors that are fresh but not overly fussy. The spirit of Catalonia is preserved in the food’s bare simplicity and exquisite quality.
The bread alone is reason to show up. The various iterations — my favorite is the sourdough — share a chewy, airy, moist inside and a crust that is as shatteringly crisp as splinters. Dipped into Spanish olive oil, it’s enough to spoil your supper.
The space looks like a rich cousin’s Barcelona apartment with an earthy palette of browns and oranges with wide-planked oak floors and a clean aesthetic. Half a dozen types of wood and marbles combine to give it a natural but polished warmth. A wall of sliding glass doors brings the green garden in. Museum-worthy artwork includes an amazing metal sculpture of a man made of letters at the entrance by famed Spanish artist Juame Plensa.
Klima’s genuinely welcoming staff helps the restaurant stand out among other Miami hotspots. Eduardo Tortajada, the enthusiastic sommelier who looks like he just stepped out of a Monty Python skit, won my heart when he poured tastes of the exquisite 2006 Tokaj for the table.
Waiters wear a simple uniform of khaki pants and button-downs with crisp aprons and black sneakers to allow them be quick on their feet. Yet they never seem frantic.
We started one night with a single perfect oyster topped with a pop of golden salmon caviar and a punchy ponzu sauce. After that, we went to salads. Gorgeous see-through skeins of shaved fennel are tossed with the creamiest burrata and dotted with bits of tiny, tasty kalamata olives and slivers of dried tomatoes. Baby basil leaves and the feathery part of the fennel add a peppery nip.
Another winner is tomato carpaccio, a simple salad of layers of thin-as-paper juicy red tomatoes fanned out with tiny nibs of basil, cauliflower and tapenade and showered in shavings of briny bright-yellow bottarga: aged, pressed roe.
A stunning parmentier borrowed from France is the ultimate in whipped potatoes, here given Spanish flair with a single sheet of fresh-sliced jamon topped with a jiggly poached egg that forms the richest and simplest sauce.
Pastas, including a rustic veal-stuffed paccheri, seem straight from Italy and are served in traditional small portions.
Don’t leave here without trying a meat dish cooked in the Josper, an oven that leaves pork ribs tender and smoky with bones that have already slipped out.
The rib-eye served sliced on a platter with a magazine-cover char and a ruby interior excels in its primitive rusticity. It’s served on a platter with an array of baby zucchini, asparagus, shallots and smoky red peppers marching across the plate.
What would a meal at a Spanish restaurant be without a bit of cod? Here I chose the fillet served over velvety potatoes in a rich coulis spiked with a distinctive hit of vanilla. The almost flan-like sweetness was surprising but welcome. A red snapper with a Peruvian causa was cooked perfectly, too.
This is undoubtedly an expensive restaurant. A couple can easily drop $250 for dinner with wine and dessert.
For a moment, especially on our second visit, I wondered if it was worth it. A signature tuna toast festooned with ribbons of leek, chipotle and lime was a carnival of flavors; however, an overly sweet ketchup-like sauce brought it down a notch. But there are precious few falters.
Desserts are like the rest of the experience: a study in simplicity. The Klima pie is a snappy, sophisticated take on the Florida Key lime classic, here with an exaggerated tang and a toasty merengue topping.
Ultimately, the professionalism, wines, beautiful setting and really remarkable food make me realize it has been a long time since I have hung out with such a natural beauty.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Twitter and Instagram @VictoriaPesceE.