By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Given his stated mission of doing for food what Ikea has done for home furnishings, Madrid restaurateur Carlos Galán might have chosen a shorter name for his charming Miami venture. Even with its mouthful of whimsy, though, Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita is easy to love.
This newcomer occupies a storied site. The Mediterranean-style 1923 building started out as one of Miami's first fire stations, became the Miami Vice-era party spot Firehouse Four and most recently was home to the fine but doomed Mosaico.
As at the Swedish furniture store, the prices at Dolores/Lolita raise eyebrows because they are so surprisingly affordable, especially for a place with such style. There's something magical about the rambling space with its dramatically arched doorways, whitewashed walls and black wood flooring anchored by a candlelit staircase.
The exceedingly friendly young staff is quick to arrive with a nice olive tapenade and warm bread. Pitchers of filtered water are complimentary and quickly refilled.
The spare menu -- identical at lunch and dinner -- could not be easier to negotiate. Sixteen entrees are grouped in two columns by price, $18 or $23. Take your pick and add a starter at no extra charge.
It's the kind of food that you want to eat while drinking, and that's pretty easy to do here, too. There's a full bar and a serviceable wine list with more than a dozen by-the-glass selections, from a simple $4 house merlot to a $10 Heron pinot noir.
Bottles, mostly young and from California, Spain or Argentina, are $18 to $95 (a 2½- to 3½-times markup over retail), with some pricier French champagnes added to the mix.
Main courses include a respectable vaca frita and a ginger-orange-glazed pork tenderloin that was a tad dry but still tasty. Luscious, pan-seared sea bass with tangy cherry tomatoes and snappy snow peas succeeds on every level, as does a generic but satisfying roasted salmon served with a vinegared tomato salad and aromatic jasmine rice.
The veal lasagne is also a find, with tender sheets of pasta layered with a thick Bolognese sauce. Veal churrasco with thin and crispy fries also satisfies meat lovers. The short-rib ravioli, however, is an oddly sweet concoction with more fatty meat then flavor. A cabernet demi glace dotted with tender button mushrooms and a delectable potato gratin nearly redeemed an unfortunately gristly grilled picanha steak.
Desserts are a steal, too, at only $2.50. The coconut crème brûlée was a bit rubbery, but the rich and retro tiramisu is worth the calories.
Like its smile-inducing name, this enticing hot spot is bound to show you a good time.
Dolores, But You Can Call Me Lolita, 1000 South Miami Ave., Brickell; 305-403-3103. doloreslolita.com
Rating: **½ (Good)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, until 1 a.m. Thursday- Saturday. Coffee shop open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Prices: Two-course meals $18-23, dessert $2.50, appetizers in Lolita Lounge $8-$16.
FYI: Reservations suggested. Valet parking $6-$10; Mary Brickell Village garage nearby. Full-bar; corkage $10. All drinks and some appetizers half-price 4-7 p.m. AX, MC, VS.
J.C. Chamizo and Carlos Galan, owners of Dolores, But You Can Call Me Lolita. Photo: Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami.com staff