Olla Miami, a Real Mexican Find
When I met Scott Linquist shortly after the opening of Coyo Taco in Wynwood he impressed me with his knowledge of and passion for Mexican cuisine. He told me how he took fellow restaurateurs on culinary tours to Mexico, and his plans for an authentic Mexican restaurant in Miami. He realized his dream at Olla Miami which opened late last year in South Beach, and it’s a “joya” (jewel). Don’t think Tex-Mex as in tacos, burritos and the like. This is the real thing in an ambiance that recalls cantinas one sees throughout the country – weathered timber walls painted in earth tones, hammered tin chandeliers, and mellow lighting.
The bar features murals inspired by the works of legendary artist Diego Rivera, a backdrop for a collection of 50 tequilas and 20 mezcals. The recipes and preparations are from throughout the country — from Jalisco and Oaxaca to Veracruz, Puebla and the Yucatan, and several chefs from Oaxaca make up the team.
The menu is organized so it’s perfect for different kinds of eaters. Just want some guacamole and a crudo, salad or minimeal in a jar (tarro) that you can enjoy with a tequila or mezcal cocktail outdoors? Got it. “Medium” hungry? Have one of the ollas (pots) and an enchilada, mole or masa. Add an entrée of land or sea for healthy appetites . Portions are good size, and the food is filling, so pace yourself.
Whatever, start with the made to order guac and warm chips. It’s chunky, perfectly laced with cilantro and tomato, fresh and utterly delicious. When asked his secret, Scott said it’s all about the avocado — Hass avocados that are perfectly ripe. It’s served with four different salsas – habanero chili, pasilla Oaxaca, salsa verde and salsa fresco . Accompany it with one of their signature cocktails, Our favorite was the Zona Rosa made of illegal joven mezcal, lime juice, aperol, grapefruit juice, and Jamaica ginger syrup. It was sweet but not overly so, with a welcome kick from the ginger. Mr. W had a second which is unheard of for him.
Try one of the jars, mason jars that are a mini meal in one. If you’re up to something totally different, try the food of the pre-hispanics, grasshoppers (chapulines) served with marcona almonds, Persian cucumbers, avocado and Mexican chocolate (I heard they’re low cal). We had the remolacha ( beet jar), a novel take on a beet salad with walnut cream, a cottage cheese like requeson, toasted walnuts, endive and pomegranate seeds, a solid choice. Next time I’d like to try the cordero — lamb tartare, shallots, capers, quail egg, roasted jalapaneo, mint relish and crisp tortilla.
Another highlight are the Ollas (pots). They’re served with a basket of warm tortillas, a selection of blue corn, wheat flour and corn. Do not miss the huitlacoche, known as the Mexican truffle, considered a delicacy in Mexico. It is laced with ample quantities of wild mushrooms, toasted garlic, chile de arbol, white cheese and epazote – a standout. The chef has a way with vegetables which, as you gather by now, are a highlight of Olla. Cauliflower gets a novel twist, roasted and combined with green chile crema, pumpkin seeds,bread crumbs and cotija (a kind of cheese). Other ollas feature combos with cowboy beans, pork belly and pork cheek; Brussel sprouts;potatoes; and pasta.
The biggest challange at Olla is how to choose among so many new, different and enticing options. The next section of the menu features other Mexican signature dishes – masa, enchiladas and moles. It was a close call between choosing the tamal with pulled chicken poblano style but we opted for the Costilla, the short rib. It was melt in your mouth tender and tasty, and laced with creamy cheese from Oaxaca with salsa, roasted tomato salsita and Mexican cream. For the mole category, the coloradito was suggested, an excellent choice that announced its entry with a savory aroma. It featured duck breast, duck carnitas, sour cherry salsita, roasted peanuts, fruity nutty red mole and sprinkles of Mexican chocolate on top.
As you can image, after this feast, we never managed to make it to the entrees ranging from king crab grilled on the half shell and littleneck clams with morcilla to Michoacan style pork shank and skirt steak with bone marrow. All the more reason to come back.
A choice of desserts includes churros with vanilla ice cram, sweet plantain with dulce de leche and chocolate; and flan with raspberry cream.
Besides an appealing selection of cocktails, there’s a solid selection of draft and bottled craft beers and a limited but well chosen wine list. Glasses of wine (a 6 ounce pour) start at $8 and bottles at $29.
Prices are reasonable. Dishes range from $8 to a high of $28 with most in the teens and low to mid-twenties. Lunch is served from Monday to Friday, brunch Saturday and Sunday and dinner nightly.
Olla Miami, 1233 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, T.786-717-5400.
Food photography by William Oberheiser