La Gamba, meaning “the shrimp” in Spanish, is a jewel in the heart of Coconut Grove that is serving classic Spanish fare with a focus on fresh seafood flown in from the Mediterranean.
The restaurant is small, with sage walls hung with prints of coral, starfish and crabs and rustic wood-framed mirrors and a glassed-in open kitchen where you can watch chef Agusti Comabella at the stove turning out tapas, Catalan-style spinach sautéed with raisins and pine nuts, plus soups, fish, meats and paella.
Owner Maria Elena Otero is Venezuelan of Spanish descent (her mother is from Asturias, and her father is from Leon), and her family published El National newspaper in Caracas. She lived in Barcelona for 10 years and took cooking classes, as well as attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
She makes the desserts and opened in December 2013, and her son Miguel Van Den Oever, whose dad is Dutch, is the general manager. He recently came from Toronto, where he worked for an international custom publishing company for a decade.
The chef is from Barcelona and comes from a long line of chefs in Catalonia. He came to Miami to open José Andrés Café Atlantico in Miami Beach in 1994 and then worked at Lyon and Lyon on Lincoln Road before becoming a private chef.
Tapas are a good way to start with a glass of crisp Albariño wine from Galicia. There’s thick grilled pan con tomate slathered with diced tomato and olive oil; artichoke heart halves cooked sous vide then pan-seared with Iberico ham bits; potato tortilla (like a fritatta) and piquillo peppers stuffed with cod in squid ink sauce.
Or start with cured meats such as jamon from the purebred acorn-eating pigs called pata negra (black foot), sliced thin with a silky texture, or a selection of Spanish sausages with Serrano ham. Slices of Manchego and Mahon cheeses come on a board with red pepper jelly, blackberry jam and lemongrass jelly.
Mains include stewed oxtail in red wine and prune sauce with white truffle oil mashed potatoes, roasted branzino and hake in salsa verde (parsley and white wine sauce). Paellas are made with premium Calasparra short-grain rice grown in the mountains of southeastern Spain that is super absorbent, soaking up the housemade broth yet remaining al dente.
Try the Seven Seas with the rice tinted dark golden from La Mancha saffron with mussels, clams, squid rings, Maine lobster chunks, split shell-on langoustine and head-on split scarlet prawns the size of a mini lobster.
There’s also squid ink paella, one with vegetables only or chicken and chorizo and a version made with fideua (toasted angel hair pasta bits) with clams and shrimp and garlic aioli. Finish with red wine poached pear slices and homemade Roquefort ice cream or chocolate mousse made with Venezuelan cacao.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.