The Big Review: Por Fin ***1/2

Executive Chef Marc Vidal of Por Fin in Coral Gables holds the Sea Bass: Pan seared and served with potato chips, tomato confit, leek chips, and black olive oil drizzle. Photo: Charlotte Southern.

Por Fin, in the crowded Coral Gables restaurant scene, is already earning raves on foodie websites. It draws a full crowd to its airy downstairs room, with tall ceilings, white walls and dark furniture, and its friendly bar and sweet veranda upstairs. The secret? Really good food.

While most serious restaurants offer interesting, innovative yet totally forgettable dishes, Por Fin makes you want to go back again and again for… fried eggs on fried potatoes. That standard Spanish comfort dish — what Spanish moms make for kids — gets a little tweaking with a side of potato foam and a touch of truffle oil. It’s topped by a slice of fried serrano, which is common for a dish that’s basically breakfast to be eaten at any hour of the day. It’s wonderful.

Other appetizers are equally pleasing. A tuna tartare is combined with mango, avocado, caviar and yogurt and spiked with a soy sesame vinaigrette: a refreshing mix. Patatas bravas are the classic Spanish tapa done to perfection — potato cubes fried in olive oil and drizzled with aioli and a mildly hot sauce. One whiff and I was transported to Madrid.

Another standard, buñuelos de bacalao (codfish fritters), is miraculously light and accompanied by a romesco sauce. This spicy Catalan sauce is also one of three dips offered with the crusty bread at each table, the others being olive oil and shaved ripe tomato. The foamed potatoes show up again as a side to short ribs braised until the meat is falling off the bone and redolent of spice and caramelized aromas.

Chef Marc Vidal knows his technique, having worked at three-star restaurants in Paris and done a stint at El Bulli — incubator of modern Spanish cuisine in Girona, Spain — but this common-sense use of foam as the world’s airiest mashed potatoes shows his restraint. Por Fin has come into being during the full bloom of the earthy food boom — short ribs are on every hip menu. Its paella is not only not “deconstructed” but is purely a seafood paella — nothing but shrimp, clams and squid. It’s the best in town, possibly because it’s made with real Spanish Calasparra rice, properly al dente, and seasoned with onions caramelized for 12 hours.

A roast chicken is boneless, juicy and delicious, topped with asparagus and garnished with a side of morels and button mushrooms in a cream sauce. The roast lamb is a rack with a sweet crust, a tender core and a side of chanterelles mixed with pistachios. And an organic Irish salmon filet came exactly medium rare, as ordered.

Trying not to fall off the diet wagon, I sampled only one dessert: White chocolate mousse with pistachio crust and raspberry sorbet. It made me wish I’d sinned more often.

Por Fin Restaurant & Lounge, 2500 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Coral Gables; 305-441-0107;; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun-Wed, until 11 p.m. Thurs, until midnight Fri and Sat; appetizers: $8-$16, entrees $16-$32, desserts $7-$8

FYI: Reservations recommended. Valet parking on weekends. Full bar; corkage $20. MC, VS, AX, DS.

Published: 5/08

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