Review of Cafe Sambal at the Mandarin Oriental

Friday, January 30, 2009

Like a jeweled half moon, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel prominently sits on the crown of Brickell Key facing out to the Biscayne Bay. The hotel is contemporary in decor with Asian accents but not overpowering. Many celebrities have stayed at this hotel near downtown Miami with 180 degree view of the water. All restaurants, the pool, lounge bar, gym, and massage suites face the glittering water.

The Mandarin houses two restaurants--Azul and Cafe Sambal.

Cafe Sambal is the more casual of the two but with upscale standards and resides on the lower level. Embroidered by an inner band of rich, fuschia-colored bougainvillea and surrounded by glistening green-blue water, the alfresco dining section is like a brilliant ruby and emerald gem ring setting. The Miami Skyline in the backdrop was surreal. Not many restaurants can boast both water and skyline view.


For an appetizer, the soy beans "Steamed Edamame with Hawaiian Seasalt" was highly recommended by Kristin, the Sales Manager. Placing the string of beans in between my teeth to remove the encapsulated bean (similar to cracking sunflower seeds and separating the seed from the shell), I pulled the other end of the bean for a clean sweep. The glittering bronze sea salt was the singular flavor. The Edamame is eaten for the experience and the health factor. At $8.00 for a deep dish bowl, the edamame is a pure protein snack. Once you have one, you can't stop until the bowl is empty.



For the second round of appetizers, I ordered the Shu Mai Steamed Shrimp & Pork Dumplings. "Shu Mai", OH MY! These flavorful blend of seafood and pork balls teased the palate. My temptation was salved by the arrival of the main course. Price: $14.00


My dining companion, ordered the Honey Miso Seared Hamachi with Tofu Custard and chunks of Alaskan King Crab. I never heard of Hamachi but upon my quick research, I learned it's a yellowtail kingfish and an expensive one that is farmed in central Japan and found in Hawaii. This fish is prized for its rich, full-bodied flavor and typically used for sushi. However, the harvested Hamachi from Baja California are not suited for sushi. If you like salmon and sushi, I think you will enjoy this "fishy" fish. Not a big fan of tofu, I actually preferred the Tofu custard--very buttery and the corn nibblets gave it that sweet custard taste. Price: $32.00



Then my plate--the Crispy Tamarind Chicken. Plump, juicy fillets of chicken breast were delicately covered in a golden brown crisp with drippings of an Asian-coconut inspired sauce atop water chestnuts and greens accompanied by a curry, coconut yellow rice. The portions were generous despite the out-of-proportion plate size. Actually the plates were more the size of a serving plate. Price: $28.00



Overall, this restaurant deserves high marks for food, flavor and ambience. Prices are on the high end which is to be expected for an upscale hotel for the rich and famous.
If you visit Cafe Sambal, please return to this posting and share your experience by clicking on "Comments" just below this article.

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