Chispa: Stylish Latin Fare Lights Spark in Coral Gables [CLOSED]

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Restaurant Miami

Chispa serves compelling Latin food in Coral Gables.

On a weekend where every meal was a grand affair in honor of my Great Aunt Anne’s 90th birthday, my immediate family had one opportunity to meet and catch up: Monday lunch. As is always the case, just getting together wasn’t enough. My father, step-mom Jane, brother Eric and I are all hardcore foodies, so where we ate lunch was serious. After two days of back-and-forth debate, my father finally chose a nouveau Cuban restaurant located behind Coral Gables High: Chispa. This restaurant has appeared in just about every food publication imaginable. Founding chef Robbin Haas departed, but Chispa’s food was still delicious, a great example of the high-end Latin food that’s proliferating Miami.

Chispa is a stylish restaurant featuring several interesting design elements. “Chispa” is ingrained in brown leather in cursive on the bar wall, red art glass lamps sit on every table, and colorful Latin paintings line the walls.

Restaurant Miami

In the foyer, several red, multi-pointed glass lamps hang from the ceiling, designed to represent chispas, or “sparks” in Spanish. Even the bathrooms are interesting, with vertical stacks of quartz rectangles and colorful floor tiles.

Our server started us with mini silver pails of pinto bean and white bean salsa that added a flavorful, cooling touch to smoking hot round rolls.

There were six of us, including my brother’s wife Jamie and my old college friend, Brad. We split five appetizers.

Latin Food Miami

Pulled Lechon flatbread ($11.95) with figs, caramelized onions, sofrito & blue cheese, drizzled with balsamic was excellent, an inventive rectangle of thin crust pizza. [FYI: According to our waiter, sofrito is like a super-charged marinara sauce that incorporates spices and chorizo] Figs and caramelized onions added sweet twang to the dish.

Chorizo, manchego & potato empanadas (2 for $6.95) came studded with fennel seeds, with a side of cooling cole slaw. The empanadas were rich and flavorful, but not overly bready.

Latin Food Miami

We ordered both ceviches. Salmon ceviche ($8.95) came in a martini glass with cubes of fish and watermelon, sprouts, avocado & chiles. The amalgamation came together in a tomato based broth.

Latin Food Miami

Shrimp ceviche ($9.95) came in a glass dish and incorporated finely chopped tomatoes, lime juice, jalapeño & peppers.

We also ate ”marinated shrimp on tostones & maduros” ($10.95). There were four fried medallions of banana, two ripe (maduros) and two unripe (tostones), each topped with a shrimp, a avocado and shredded white cheese. With a light avocado cream sauce, both varieties were delicious, though I preferred the maduros, which were buttery and silky. Tostones are harder and drier.

Salad Miami

For our entrees, Jane and Jamie both ordered “Spinach salad with apples, candied pecans, bacon, blue cheese and apple cider vinaigrette ($10.95) with a “plancha shrimp skewer ($6.95). [FYI: Plancha means grill in Spanish.] The salad would have been good even without the shrimp, but the large, plump crustaceans added even more texture and variety.

LatinFood Miami

My father went for, what else, the chicken. His Mojo chicken a la plancha ($12.95) with tossed greens, tomatoes & cucumber, was pressed, with a crispy skin and good flavor.

Latin Food Miami

I ate roasted corvina with vegetable stack & lemongrass mojo butter ($15.95). Sure, roasted pepper (red and yellow), Portobello, yellow squash, and onion accompaniments weren’t very exciting, but the sea bass-like corvina was luscious in an Asian-influenced lemongrass butter sauce.

Latin Food Miami

My brother’s skirt steak with avocado salsa, pickled onions & yucca fries ($17.95) was excellent. The juicy meat had a nice char on the outside, the pink onions were sweet, and the yucca fries were well-seasoned, unusually crisp and meaty, without being dry.

Brad ordered a bowl of seared shrimp fettuccine ($15.95) mixed with salty Serrano ham cuts, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. It was an interesting pasta preparation with a lot of shrimp and good flavor.

Dessert Miami

There was certainly no drop-off in quality at dessert. My “Burnt sugar rice pudding with sour cherry-guava marmalade” ($5.95) came in a silver pail and was sensational. There was a caramelized sugar crust, plump grains of rice, not soupy at all, with a sweet, chunky core of sour cherry and guava. It was probably the best rice pudding I’ve ever eaten.

Dessert Miami

Caramel flan ($5.95) surrounded by raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, ringed by passion fruit and raspberry sauces, was another best ever version. The flan itself was eggier, more custardy, and much more flavorful than I’ve seen. My dad went with a glass “waffle cone” filled with two scoops of house-made coffee ice cream ($6.95).

I don’t know who Michelle is, but “Michelle’s chocolate cookie ice cream sandwich with brown sugar bananas & toasted pecans, guava & vanilla ice cream” ($7.95) was very interesting, and exceptionally good, with an architectural element. The long glass plate featured a base of squiggled chocolate sauce. The ice cream sandwich was a double-decker job, with three pecan-crusted chocolate wafers with alternate scoops of guava and vanilla ice cream in between. Spilling off the construction were sweet little chunks of brown sugar bananas and a puff of whipped cream. It was an inventive dessert, and delicious.

We topped off lunch at Chispa with Cubanos and cafés con leche. [FYI: A Cubano is a cup with two espresso shots and sugar. A café con leche is coffee with milk.] In this case, a small milk pitcher.

Chispa was a very good experience, but it became clear early on that it wasn’t going to be about a family spending quality time together. It was about us devouring almost every delicious dish on the menu, focusing more on passing plates and sharing bites than catching up on each other’s lives. Which is not to say it wasn’t fun. It was. We’ll just have to leave the catching up for another time.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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