La Mancha's munchies are Portuguese and Brazilian in downtown Miami

Photos by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald

The name may conjure the absurdities encountered by Don Quixote on the arid La Mancha plateau with whitewashed windmills, but this downtown newcomer is more Portuguese in flavor. 

Yes, there is potato-and-ham Spanish tortilla; skewered tapas with marinated anchovies, olives, peppers and diced Manchego; and gambas ajillo (garlic shrimp), but many dishes are influenced by Portugal via Brazil with coconut milk and saffron-enriched sauces.

Chef-owner Willys De Assis is from Governador Valadares in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, situated in the third valley of the Rio Doce. He learned to cook from his mother, who ran a restaurant. He became a butcher influenced by his father-in-law and owned three butcher shops working with cousins and uncles, and then he ran a burger joint that became very well known. 

Ten years ago De Assis came to Florida’s Fernandina Beach, named in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, as in the 1700s there was a Spanish settlement on Amelia Island. He opened his first La Mancha, but tourists from Miami persuaded him to open here, and he did four months ago. Soon he will add Valencia-style paella for 100 people made in a huge pan from which servers will ladle portions (a big hit as his other place). 

Most people start with a selection of tapas, including eggplant branca lua (“white moon”), bringing slices of eggplant rolled up with crab and spinach topped with mozzarella and baked in housemade marinara sauce infused with saffron and cream. 

Shrimp Mozambicana in coconut milk with cayenne and cilantro is perhaps inspired by the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique in Africa. Ameijoas Villa Roy are clams in a metal pot (very hot) steamed in a succulent broth of white wine with sofrito, slices of chorizo, garlic and onions that should be soaked up with bread. 

Almondegas de siri is a large lump-crab meatball smothered in the marinara saffron sauce. All are good with fruit-filled sangria. Meat lovers can get the 8-ounce char-grilled filet mignon Lisboa topped with Port wine-porcini sauce or a ribeye with a lobster tail. 

There are three paellas, with combinations of seafood, lamb, chicken, pork and chorizo. Then there’s Brazilian caldeirada, a Portuguese stew in rich coconut milk refogado similar to sofrito (slow-cooked peppers, onions, garlic and tomato) swimming with grouper, mussels, shrimp, clams and nubs of octopus served with rice; and moqueca, an Afro-Brazilian stew with coconut milk, seafood and hearts of palm with saffron rice. 

Finish with a Port-poached pear with ice cream, then plan a trip to Brazil — or a return trip here. 

Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer. 

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