Dining at La Mar by Gastón Acurio – Miami, FL
Culinary travel is a hot concept right now. With many travel writers and bloggers focusing on where to find the best bite, dining experience, and best chef in town, you’d almost think there’s no other reason to travel than to eat. For us, great food has always been a primary focus of travel; it rounds out the destination with the aromas and flavors, and completes the sense of place. The cuisine of a city or country is representative of its people, history, and culture and it all comes together on the plate.
Miami is a great American city with a decidedly Latin beat. It’s one of the most culturally exciting cities in the United States, derived from the large Latin and Hispanic population. In fact, 70% of the population comes from Latin America. But unlike many countries, where there tends to be a homogeneity to the culture, Latinos comprise a much broader and diverse group coming from many parts of South America and the islands. Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru, Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Central America, all bring a Latin influence, but each with their own unique twist in customs, culture, and flavor. In Miami, the restaurants, shopping, art, architecture, and nightlife are a fusion of these people and it creates an extraordinary travel experience.
On a recent trip to Miami we had such an experience when we stayed at Mandarin Oriental, Miami and dined at La Mar by Gastón Acurio, located in the hotel. Chef Diego Oka is the executive chef at La Mar.
If you live in the Miami area or read our interview with Diego, you may already be familiar with this talented young chef. His cuisine, influenced by his Japanese heritage, Peruvian roots, and travels around the world, combined with the Peruvian restaurant concept of world-renowned Gastón Acurio, has received numerous accolades. It seems like each week brings a new story in the press about Diego, La Mar, and Acurio, and for good reason. His flavors excite and the presentations are artful.
We were familiar with Peruvian food before dining at La Mar (such as cebiches and chaufa from working with Latin dishes and recipes for Southern Heat), but some of the dishes were new to us. The selection of cebiches and other dishes we tried at La Mar were unique in flavor; bright and bold in color and taste, and refreshing on the palate. Many of them highlighted beautiful fresh seafood and the components were texturally and visually appealing. Some dishes had just a bit of spice and many featured one of Diego’s favorite ingredients, the Peruvian Aji Amarillo pepper.
The concept at La Mar is a reflection of Diego’s desire to serve beautiful and delicious food in a casual, yet elegant environment. You can dine fine or come as you are at this beautiful waterfront restaurant overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Diego has shared a recipe for a simple dish to prepare at home which showcases some of his flavors, including an Aji Amarillo Vinaigrette. Quinoa Caprese Salad is a perfect summertime dish and a great way to incorporate the season’s best heirloom tomatoes.
If you live in the Atlanta area, you can experience Diego’s dishes and flavors at a Peruvian Culinary Series at Mandarin Oriental, Miami August 20 to 22, 2015. Click here for the details.
* The dish in the top photograph is Whole Fish Nikkei.
** Photograph courtesy of La Mar.
Quinoa Caprese Salad
Aji Amarillo vinaigrette:
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 garlic clove
½ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons Aji Amarillo paste
1 1/2 whole heirloom tomatoes
1 teaspoon basil, chiffonade
1 ball burrata cheese
1/2 cup red quinoa (cook for 10 minutes)
Micro basil, for garnish
Mix the quinoa with a little of the vinaigrette.
Dice the tomatoes and mix with 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and 1/2 teaspoon basil chiffonade.
Place tomatoes on a plate, then layer the quinoa and cheese on top. Drizzle vinaigrette and finish with micro basil.
Chef Diego Oka
La Mar by Gastón Acurio – Miami, FL
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