Review of Lario's, South Beach

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Miami is synonymous with hot weather, glistening beaches, sultry dancing (salsa and tango), fabulous food and Gloria Estefan--the original singer of the Miami Sound Machine.  The last two come together as Emilio and Gloria Estefan showcase specialty Cuban cuisine at their popular restaurants, Bongo's Cafe in Downtown Miami and Lario's on the Beach in South Beach.

Lario's on the Beach

A visit to Miami is not complete without eating authentic Cuban food.  Lario's is located on the famed Ocean Drive that attracts tourists worldwide.  Recently I had the chance to revisit the restaurant for their Miami Spice menu for dinner. For a quick recap on Miami Spice, it's a popular dining program  the months of August and September where high end restaurants offer a pre-fix, three course meal for a discounted price.

Upon entering, Lario's is always alive with Caribbean sounds, rhythms, and colors.  The decor is modern yet capturing the 1950's glory days of Cuba.

Bar at Lario's on the Beach

Lario's has a unique addition to their Miami Spice menu by offering  a classic mojito cocktail or glass of sangria.  A definite plus.  But the cherry on top was the flavored mojito. The waitress highly recommended the guava mojito.  Sensational!

Guava mojito at Lario's on the Beach

 While sipping our cocktails, Chef Gaston Sanchez kicked off the food frenzy by serving a platter of  papa rellena (stuffed potato),  a flight of ceviche samplers in various tropical juices, and Tostone (fried green plantain) cups filled with picadillo (minced ground beef) or shrimp criolla. I'm a big fan of ceviche and creative uses of  Tostones and these bites met my expectations. Everything was delicious--fabulous start! Please know for the Miami Spice menu, customers select one of the appetizers. I recommend the ceviche* for seafood lovers or the Tostones Rellenos for a balance of beef and seafood. The Papa Rellena would be the safe choice for those less adventurous.

Ceviche, papa rellena, and tostone cups with shrimp and beef criolla

Then we transitioned to a handsome section of the dining room in wood and honey colored tones and four vibrant turquoise color photos of Gloria in sequential facial expressions.  I noticed the room would be ideal for private dining groups when the sliding doors were pulled.

The parade of food dishes continued with great fanfare. First were the classics such as churrasco steak and a "tour of Cuba" which consisted of a trio of shreds of fried chicken, roasted pork and Ropa Vieja (shredded beef). All were good and one could taste the freshness. Many Cubans offer less praise for these dishes at Lario's perhaps because many mom and pop restaurants use more fatty meats and seasoning. For these classic dishes I tend to agree and would frequent other restaurants, if you don't mind higher caloric intake.

The star of the night that stole the show was the Zarzuela de Mariscos, a medley of lobster, shrimp, scallops, calamari, baby clams and mussels bathed in a homemade criolla red sauce.

Larios- seafood medley, Tostones, moros (beans and rice) and maduros (fried ripe plantains)

The sauce alone for the seafood medley was outstanding that our group wanted to order a gallon to take home. No doubt to decipher the secret ingredients and portions.

The Cuban side classics such as tostones (the mini round pancake size fritters), moros (combo beans and rice) and the maduros (fried ripe plantains) were cooked to Cuban recipe perfection. 

I can not judge the portions for Miami Spice as we were served in a banquet style. Our hostess encouraged us to sample all food items which we gladly obliged.

 Then there was a showering of desserts! The Miami Spice menu lists three options but I recommend the classic Flan-- a well-loved custard typically prepared with egg yolks, sugar, evaporated and condensed milk, and vanilla extract.  Another classic not on the Miami Spice dessert options but worth ordering is the Tres Leches pictured below. My new favorite is the Flan Bread Pudding! Genius blend of two favorite recipes.

Tres Leches dessert

The Cuban culture celebrates family and life by sharing a home cooked meal. In our case, sitting among new colleagues, our feast was cause for celebration and we were ready to dance--well maybe in our dreams as we rolled out like loaded barrels. Or was that mojito-induced dance vibes?

Regardless, Lario's is the destination for great Cuban cuisine whether you are a tourist in search of the  ultimate Cuban experience, or  introducing a friend to a unique experience or a group outing to entertain clients or special get-together. Many celebrities such as Rosie O'Donnell, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have dined at Lario's on the Beach.

I just realized I have only dined at Lario's for dinner and never at lunch time where the interior restaurant exudes a daylight vibrancy.  Will have to remedy this anomaly!

Lario's on the Beach
820 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL  33139

Lario's on the Beach, Miami Spice menu

* Ceviche is a traditional Peruvian seafood dish that starts with fillets of raw fish and cured in lemon or lime juice overnight. Restaurants today will  either follow this technique or use cooked fish and set in tropical juices.  Other variations include use of cooked shrimp. If you have any concerns about eating raw fish, always ask the waiter if the restaurant is using cooked fish or cured fish.

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