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, my step-mom Jane, my brother Eric and I are all hardcore foodies, and which restaurant we ate at was serious, with two days of back-and-forth debate. My father finally chose a nouveau Cuban restaurant located behind Coral Gables High: Chispa. Under the leadership of founding chef Robbin Haas, Chispa has been featured in just about every food publication imaginable, from Food & Wine to Bon Appetit. Haas is gone now, but the food was still delicious, a great example of the high-end Latin food that’s proliferating Miami.
This stylish restaurant features 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the meal 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 pitcher of milk.
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.