The who: With the newest location of his cevicheria La Mar, Peruvian star chef and restaurateur Gastón Acurio plants his cured-fish flag at the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key.
The space: The former Café Sambal space has been outfitted with a 22-seat Cebiche and Anticucho bar and a 13-seat cocktail bar. The main dining room is awash in shades of watery greens, sandy grays and beiges, and wood. Chalkboard menus emphasize La Mar’s fresh ingredients and casual atmosphere. An enticing outdoor terrace on the waterfront offers glittering views of downtown.
The scene: A bustling dining room is packed with well-heeled tourists, families dining with toddlers after 9 p.m. and local food personalities (we spied Ceviche 105 chef Juan Chipoco dining with friends).
The dishes: Contemporary Peruvian with colorful tweaks. Prices are in line with what we’d expect for a restaurant at a high-end hotel: small plates $9-$18, larger plates $19-$45. The menu is epic, with lists of tiraditos, ceviches, causas, anticuchos, hot dishes and larger Peruvian specialties.
A ceviche sampler consists of nikkei (tuna, red onions, nori, avocado, daikon, cucumber, and tamarind leche de tigre), classic (fluke, cilantro, aji limo, red onions, Peruvian corn, and classic tiger’s milk) and criollo (calamari, scallops, aji amarillo) selections.
A deconstructed cangrejo causa is made of mashed beets, fresh crab meat, avocado, cherry tomatoes, hardboiled quail egg and fried kale, all drizzled with a creamy, cheesey huancaína sauce.
Skewers of wagyu beef anticuchos come topped with a quail egg and rocoto pepper sauce on the side. The duck fried rice is a heaping plate of cilantro rice in a huancaína sauce with a tender leg of duck confit.
Desserts include lucuma fruit “pops” with chocolate sauce, chocolate mousse topped with caramelized quinoa, and fruit ice bombs and a platter of alfajor cookies.
The bottom line: A fish-centric menu of Peruvian specialities in a comfortable but slick downtown setting.