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Miami has some very good bars but not sure about great ones. As you readers probably know, I do love the bar in the lobby of the Fontainebleau as it’s so iconic Miami with the Morris Lapidus design, fluorescent colors, people who go there (club types, conventioneers, regular tourists) and views. But besides that, there’s room for another star. The new MO Bar + Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental is making a play for the title and, when the word gets around, it has a good shot at getting it. And then there’s the new restaurant, La Mar by Gaston Acurio.

But first, the lounge. It has an intimate feel to it, it’s comfortable, stylish, has live music on weekends, a neat three quarters bar, killer views, and wait until you see the beverage menu: 13 kinds of gin, 11 tequilas, 31 single malt whiskies, and rare offerings like a 30 year Macallan for $290 for two ounces, a Remy Louis XIII cognac for $450, and gluten-free Sato no hore POV sake. Bottom line, the MO Bar + Lounge is a wonderful preface to dinner at the new hotspot La Mar by Gaston Acurio. Peruvian superstar chef Acurio heads up the kitchen together with charming and talented Japanese- Peruvian Executive Chef Diego Oka at the space in the former Café Sambal.

This is Peruvian cuisine at a new level, mixing Asian-Peruvian influences and paying tribute to the sea.  The menu is divided into 10 sections and it’s worth it to try one or two in at least half of those sections, doing one’s own tasting tapas style.  The charming and professional wait staff will be happy to oblige with suggestions (we adored our waiter, the passionate “foodie” Nicolas Baur). All products are locally sourced, ceramic dishware is made by Peruvian artisans and wooden boats used for presentation are made by the chef’s father. There’s indoor and outdoor seating (outdoor if you want quiet), a ceviche bar and anticucho bar (street food).

We started with a ceviche barrio – yellow tail snapper, mussels, clams, crispy calamari and Peruvian pepper rocoto – deliciously crunchy, soft and spicy and el bote chalaco – scallops, oysters and mussels with chalaca, a sauce with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The fish was squeakingly fresh and each dish delicious. Then we tried the more unusual wagyu beef tiradito that came with the special yellow Peruvian pepper called ponzu, scallion, and rocoto oroshi, a daikon with red Peruvian pepper pasteand sesame oil. Not to be missed. Or if you like tartare, an unusual variation on the French classic is Nigiri pobre – wagyu tartare, quail egg, chalaca and honey.

Peruvian food lovers out there are probably familiar with causas, whipped potatoes with aji pepper and  different toppings. We opted for the one with tuna tartar, rocoto cream and avocado There’s a selection of the traditional skewers, Peruvian street food called “anticuchos” in beef, chicken and vegetable varieties, but one of the highlights was the whole fish catch of the day, in this case yellowtail snapper,  that’s perfectly fried with Peruvian Japanese spicy sauce, bok choy and broccoli rice. You can eat every piece of the fish (the tail tasted like a potato chip).  We couldn’t eat it all so took the rest home and it was delicious the next day as well, served cold. My uber favorite in an otherwise tough competition was the chaufa aeropuerto. The combination of flavors from the cuisines of Japan, China, Italy and Spain – spicy, sweet – and textures – soft and crispy- was sensational. I could have made a meal just of that.  A separate menu of equally creative desserts completes the offerings at La Mar by Gaston Acurio.

Small dishes range in price from the mid-teens and up; entrees from $19 to $45. Go. You’ll love it.

Food photography by William Oberheiser

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