I am not ordinarily given to recounting my personal life here, much less to restaurant reviews, but I can't resist mentioning the place I went to dinner last night, “Las Culebrinas.” We wanted to go somewhere new, so we were trawling the Miami Herald restaurant review archive in the minutes before the babysitter arrived, looking for places that were not too far away, not too pricey, and interesting sounding. Then we found this.
I began to think that this might make for an interesting night out when I got to this part in the review, especially because I was pretty hungry:
Our waiter, a fellow with a merry twinkle in his eye and a deft hand with a blowtorch (more on that later), advised us not to order anything beyond the giant tapas. “TOO MUCH FOOD,'' he declared. We pressed on. Great rewards awaited.
But the next two paragraphs really sealed the deal:
There is a regular entree menu underneath the glass tabletop, but you need not look at it. Each night, a sheet bearing some 25 specials is circulated, and it is there that the truly interesting stuff can be found.
It is there that we spotted what no Spanish restaurant ought to be doing without, an entree called “Crocodile Medallions French Style'' ($12.95). This is a must-order, filet after filet of thinly sliced, pearly white, slightly chewy but delicious and virtually fat-free meat. Compare it to a good veal. The “French style'' involves a light egg wash and a bit of white wine and butter in the saute. Julia Child, meet Wally Gator. Served with a nice little row of tasty potatoes and a side salad made of mixed field greens, not the typical pallid iceberg.
Julia Child meets Wally Gator! How could I resist?
And then there was this to seal the deal:
Back to that blowtorch. If you are familiar with the traditional Spanish dessert crema catalana, you will know that on top is a layer of caramelized sugar. You can do this caramelizing with the broiler if you like, but at Las Culebrinas, that is not enough fanfare. They spoon the sugar on top of your little dish of crema at the table, and then they pull out the torch and fire it up. Before your eyes, crema catalana.
So we went. We had to queue to get in, but when we did we found a room full of happy people, and a pretty diverse crowd including lots of families with kids. I also discovered that Frenchified alligator now costs about 40% more than it did when reviewed in 1998. But I had to do it. And it was pretty good. Yes, it tastes a bit more like chicken then veal does, and is definitely a bit chewier than either, but it's not bad.
And the formal-waiter-with-the-blowtorch-thing (do you have to put the other arm behind your back as if you were pouring a fine wine?) would be really funny if they weren't so serious about it…
I expect we'll go back sooner or later, but we'll probably try the tappas next time.