Olla Miami: ⭐⭐ 1/2 (Good)
Everything about Olla proclaims a bold intention: This will not be just another taquería from a chef made famous by tacos.
Scott Linquist may have ridden the taco trend with Coyo Taco in Wynwood and Brickell, but he aspires to more at this 5-month-old restaurant on a quiet side street in South Beach.
A look at the menu alone shows Linquist, a SoCal native and modern Mexican cookbook author, knows Mexican fare and isn’t afraid to present a challenging dish. The proof is right on the page.
Snacks include chapulines, toasted Oaxacan grasshoppers that make for your average bar snack in Mexico but are a spectacle here that he bravely features atop of his menu. Entrées include several styles of molés, some made with hard-to-source ingredients, such as chilhuacle and chilcostle peppers for his Oaxacan molé negro.
And shareable skillets called ollas (the Spanish term for pots) highlight specialties such as huitlacoche, what he calls corn “truffles,” but that are in fact a specific kind of fungus that grows on corn and makes for a truly unique and funky flavor that speaks of Mexico and nowhere else.
So when it comes to embracing those unique flavors, why is Olla playing it safe?
That question stumped me during several visits. Many dishes start with a risk but fall back to safe choices, concessions made for the American (and Miami) palate — when doubling down would truly set Olla apart.
That’s not to say there weren’t several satisfying dishes, many of them showing the talent that made Linquist a success at restaurants such as Los Angeles’ Border Grill and New York’s Dos Caminos and the New York Times star-reviewed El Toro Blanco, whose menu he created.
Linquist admits the restaurant is still trying to find its audience. Maybe that’s because we already have enough (read: too many) Mexican restaurants simplifying flavors for American sensibilities. Success favors the bold — and bold flavors.
Perhaps Olla still has time to double-down, take off the training wheels and fulfill the promise of its bold intentions.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
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1233 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach