Home / 2015 / February

enb crowd

By Sherri Balefsky | Contributing Writer 

The whirlwind weekend that is the South Beach Wine & Food Festival officially kicked off on Thursday, with dozens of events scattered throughout the city. Here’s a look inside the most exciting weekend (for food lovers!) in Miami, and our three favorite events during the festival weekend.

1. The Italian Al Fresco Feast

On Thursday evening, we headed for the tents, which spanned several blocks on the sands of South Beach. Despite the brisk temperatures, there was no way we were missing the festival’s first-ever Italian Al Fresco Feast on the Beach hosted by the Cooking Channel’s Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos. The evening was sponsored by storied pasta brand Ronzoni, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Ronzoni Pasta's 100th Anniversary: Al Fresco Feast Sponsored By MIAMI Magazine Hosted By Debi Mazar & Gabriele Corcos - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival

This night was all things Italian, featuring over 30 chefs from around the nation offering hungry event goers variations on their signature pasta dishes—spaghetti, linguini, rigatoni, ravioli, tortellini, and more in red sauce, pink sauce, Alfredo, pesto—every delectable combination you could imagine, all paired with Folonari Amore Italia wines. Several notable south Florida restaurants participated, including Chef Israel Mora of the new Brickell eatery Tamarina with a Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli topped with sage butter sauce, and Fabio Viviani of Siena Tavern with delicious wagyu meatballs.

Ronzoni Pasta's 100th Anniversary: Al Fresco Feast Sponsored By MIAMI Magazine Hosted By Debi Mazar & Gabriele Corcos - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival

2. Best of the Best at the Fontainebleau

On Friday evening, while many Sobe Festers returned to the tents for the ninth annual Amstel Light Burger Bash, we headed to a more intimate affair at the Fontainebleau hotel. Aptly named the Best of the Best, the Wine Spectator-sponsored evening was arguably one of the more exclusive events of the weekend, attended only by the who’s who of Miami, New York, and beyond.

Fontainebleau Miami Beach Presents Wine Spectator's Best Of The Best Sponsored By Bank Of America And Merrill Lynch - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food

The event, which took place inside the hotel’s Sparkle Ballroom, was an overwhelming maze of over 60 featured restaurants, each serving up samplings of their best gourmet dishes. Restaurants were interspersed with equally impressive wineries offering sizable tastings and interesting tidbits about their varietals. True to its name, this event certainly was the best of the best, especially since all of the wines offered were rated 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s prestigious scale.

Top chefs came from all over the United States, though many of them were from right here in Miami, including the Fontainebleau’s very own Chefs Scott Conant and Michael Mina. Other notable South Florida restaurants in attendance included db Bistro Moderne, Katsuya, Seaspice, BLT Steak, and the Biltmore’s Palme d’Or, among many others.

Fontainebleau Miami Beach Presents Wine Spectator's Best Of The Best Sponsored By Bank Of America And Merrill Lynch - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Fontainebleau Miami Beach Presents Wine Spectator's Best Of The Best Sponsored By Bank Of America And Merrill Lynch - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food

3. Eats & Beats Miami

On Saturday night, we switched gears, opting for a more low-key experience: the second-annual Eats & Beats Miami, an event–that’s not officially part of SoBe Fest–that took place at the glitzy Moore Building in the Design District. Luckily, we arrived early, because by the time we were through (about two hours in), the line to get in had snaked around the block.



A combination event for both foodies and music lovers, the evening featured four floors of local restaurants offering a smorgasbord of tastings, from Asian-inspired dishes, to juicy slabs of rib-eye, to Indian curry, to empanadas, to sushi. The beverage offerings were diverse as well—wine, beer, Champagne, tequila, rum, vodka, you name it—Eats & Beats had all its bases covered.

The DJ booth didn’t miss a beat, which included sets by Michelle Leshem, Sean Drake, Chris Valencia, and Malone. All in all, it was the perfect ending to a very hectic—but very enjoyable—weekend. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year! Until then, our palates won’t quite be the same.


Five Cubed

By Sherri Balefsky | Contributing Writer

On Wednesday evening, Miami’s top tastemakers gathered on the rooftop of 1111 Lincoln Road for the night’s ultimate VIP event: Five Cubed. Hosted by Haute Dining and Meat Market’s Executive Chef Sean Brasel, the aptly named private dinner featured five different courses by five different superstar chefs paired with five different specialty beers from Ommegang Brewery. Despite the noticeably plummeting temperatures (we all know that in Miami, anything below 60 degrees is freezing), it was the perfect kickoff to the flurry of events surrounding this weekend’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

Five Cubed

As the sun set all around us, we took our seats at one of the two long tables. First up: Chef Alex Chang of the recently opened Miami restaurant, Vagabond, who presented a beautifully prepared Golden Tilefish Crudo, thinly sliced and seasoned to perfection. The dish paired with Ommegang’s Witte blend, a wheat ale spiced with sweet orange peel and coriander.

Up next: Chef Brad Kilgore from Alter, a new dining concept that recently opened in the Design District. He served up a Dry-Aged Beef Tartare with dill and yolk mousse, beer mustard, rye, and caraway. Beer number two was Henepin, a farmhouse saison ale brewed with grains of paradise, coriander, ginger, and sweet orange peel.

Five Cubed

Luckily for those of us who were possibly suffering from frostbite, our third course was a steamy Seafood Soup featuring scallop, lobster, octopus, and uni in a Szechuan broth by Chef Johnny Sheehan of Boston’s New World Tavern. The soup was paired with Gnommegang, a Belgian-style blond ale brewed with Chouffe yeast.

Now that we were a bit warmer, it was time for the main course, presented by Chef Brasel himself: two juicy slabs of Dry-Aged Certified Angus Beef Prime Rib, cooked two ways—one noticeably rarer than the other—so that we could taste the different flavors of each technique. A sweet twist was the accompanying gingerbread donut with a fried kale salad. The main course beer was called Valar Morghulis, Ommegang’s special “Game of Thrones” blend.

Five Cubed

At this point, we were beyond full! But no one could resist Chef Adrianne Calvo’s heavenly Dark Chocolate Nutella Croissant Bread Pudding with vanilla bean crème anglaise. The final beer: Three Philosophers, a quadruple ale blended with Liefmans Kriek.

After dinner, the event space opened up to additional party-goers, where 10 more chefs offered samplings of their specialties, bringing the total to 15 chef tastings in one evening.


By Richard Temple | Contributing Writer

One indicator of AltaMare’s {1233 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305.532.3061} quality is the fact that it’s not on the main tourist stretch of Lincoln Road, which ends at the cinema. This means it has to rely principally on regulars rather than tourists–always a good sign in our experience. AltaMare specializes in Mediterranean-accented seafood with a few interesting meat dishes for the dedicated carnivore.

Main Dining room

We all like going to restaurants where we’re known and greeted personally by the owner or manager. It makes us feel wanted and even a little bit important particularly if we’re entertaining guests. Owner Claudio Giordano is always there to welcome guests and ensure that everything’s running smoothly. Claudio, who trained in hotels in Italy, Germany, Venezuela, and England before opening his own restaurants in Miami, is a consummate professional.

But however effusive the greeting and however welcome we’re made to feel, the main reason we return to a restaurant again and again is because we like it and because the food’s good. And at AltaMare, we do and it is.

Fresh Fish

Wahoo Crudo: a loin of wahoo seared rare, sliced thinly, and served with the best extra virgin olive oil, avocado, fleur de sel, and bottarga (salted cured fish roe)

Wahoo Crudo: a loin of wahoo seared rare, sliced thinly, and served with the best extra virgin olive oil, avocado, fleur de sel, and bottarga (salted cured fish roe)

Homemade Pappardelle with fresh tomato sauce, chunks of braised short rib, and mozzarella di bufala

Homemade Pappardelle with fresh tomato sauce, chunks of braised short rib, and mozzarella di bufala

Two of our favorites are the Canaveral Shrimp Linguini and the Risotto Frutti Di Mare. The Octopus Carpaccio starter with lemon, olive oil, and potato salad is always excellent. There are daily specials on the menu depending on what’s fresh that day. As one would expect from a restaurant of this standard, there’s an extensive wine list that includes Planeta, one of our favorite Italian Chardonnays, as well as a delicious Brunello di Montalcino if you’re in the mood for red wine.

AltaMare recently started an increasingly popular happy hour between 5pm and 7pm with deals on oysters, crudos, and other tasty dishes washed down by $6 drinks.

Toscana Divino

By Richard Temple | Contributing Writer

It has been said that food contributes barely 50-percent to the pleasure–or lack of pleasure–of eating in a restaurant. We can all think of places which may not serve the best food in the world, but which we go back to time and again because we enjoy them and they make us feel good. Conversely, we may have the most gastronomically exquisite experience in a restaurant, but never return either because the complete lack of ambience or the drab décor or the complete absence of “buzz”–perhaps all three–leaves us distinctly underwhelmed.

One of my favorite Miami haunts that delivers on all three–and which serves food of a consistently high standard at fair prices–is Toscana Divino in Mary Brickell Village, which has now been open for three years. It’s the type of place where you might eat at least once weekly.

Toscana Divino

The contemporary Tuscan menu includes such delights as Grilled Octopus with oregano from Calabria, chile, and fresh tomato. The pasta is all homemade, as in the Pici al Sugo d’Anatra, which features pici, a hand-rolled fresh pasta typical of Siena cooked in boiling salted water. The accompanying duck ragu is made by searing duck legs in hot oil and cooking in a vegetable broth with diced carrots, onions, celery, tomato paste, dried porcini mushrooms, bay leaves, and orange. When the duck is cooked and cooled, the skin is removed and the meat is picked from the bone and mixed with the cooking liquid. The cooked pici pasta is tossed with the duck ragu, and dressed with grated pecorino cheese and olive oil.

Pici al Sugo

Pici al Sugo

Toscana also makes its own pappardelle for the Pappardelle alla Finocchiona. In this dish, pork shoulder is ground in-house and seasoned with fennel seeds, garlic, salt, and pepper, left to marinate for three days, and then cooked with carrots, onions, and celery with white wine and vegetable broth. A potato is added, which breaks down when cooked and helps give consistency to the ragu. The fresh pappardelle is tossed with the pork ragu, finished with extra virgin olive oil, and pecorino, and dusted with fennel pollen.

The Pappardelle alla Finocchiona

The Pappardelle alla Finocchiona

Pasta lovers will also delight in the Risotto di Funghi, which is made with Canaroli (Acquerello) organic rice produced in Italy, and aged for one year in the husk. Toscana cooks it the classic way using mushroom broth and finishes the dish with Parmesan and butter. The accompanying mushrooms are prepared three different ways: sautéed and cooked into the rice; roasted and served on the rice; and raw as a salad with olive oil and Parmesan. Finally, chopped truffle is added to the risotto.

The Risotto di Funghi

The Risotto di Funghi

Other standout dishes include the Burrata Capresecolorful heirloom tomatoes arranged with Burrata, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and garnished with torn pieces of micro-basil garnish–and the Ahi Tuna Loin served with eggplant purée and red pepper confit. The Cacciucco, a rich Tuscan seafood stew, is also a winner. The wine list offers plenty of choice although, as is so often the case with restaurants, some of the wines are still a bit young.

The Burrata Caprese features heirloom tomatoes with Burrata seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, with torn pieces of micro-basil garnish

The Burrata Caprese

Toscana has a pretty outside terrace, and a handsome bar just inside the main restaurant where you can enjoy a drink before dinner. Service is friendly and smooth.

The executive chef, Julian Baker, is a Brit, but don’t hold this against him! Baker has worked extensively in Italy where he developed his love of Italian cooking. The GM, Mauro Bortignon–a real charmer–hails from Venice and makes sure that while the menu is genuinely Tuscan, it’s also contemporary.

Try Toscana Divino if you haven’t already. We’ll be surprised if you don’t go back again and again.

This Valentine’s Day, there are tons of romantic activities, dinners, and specials to celebrate in the Miami area. From lavish five-course dinners, to luxurious spa packages, we don’t know where to begin! Here’s our round-up of the ultimate V Day events to take advantage of.

Deals and Packages

Cleo airplane on bay 012

Cleopatra’s Love Package

Surprise your better half with a memorable Skyline seaplane tour and a romantic dinner for two at the famous Cleo South Beach {1776 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach}. Your night will begin with a 15-minute flight from the bay towards South Beach. You will pass over the eclectic Downtown Miami, Star Island and admire the trendy South Beach Deco Drive with its many hotels and restaurants. The package is just $395 for two, and is available February 14 and 15. Upgrade with a bottle of Moet Rose or Whispering Angel Rose for $445.

Valentine’s Day Spa Deals at The Mandarin Oriental

Indulge in one of the spa packages at The Mandarin Oriental {500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami}. The Couples Delight package is perfect for guests seeking a truly pampered and romantic experience, offering all the pleasures of the hotel’s five-star spa enhanced by amorous amenities. The package includes two hours of treatment time plus relaxation time in a VIP Couples Suite, Champagne, and an assortment of chocolate pralines. The package is $720 plus gratuities for two, or $360 plus gratuities for one, excluding advanced facials.

Perfect as a gift for a loved one or as a personal treat for Valentine’s Day, the spa is also offering the luxurious Perfect Beauty package. With an 80-minute Hydrating Oxygen Facial and a manicure, guests will leave feeling pampered, refreshed, and looking their best. The package is $285 plus gratuities.

Couples seeking an experience to treat the senses can enjoy the Couples Connection Journey, which includes Inner Strength Massage in the VIP Couples Suite, side-by-side Mandarin pedicures with mimosas, and his and hers perfume from Dossage to take home. The Journey is $845 plus gratuities, and is also available for one.

My Valentine Package at Azul 

Azul {Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami} is offering the My Valentine Package, which includes overnight accommodations in a deluxe room, a full American breakfast at La Mar with mimosas, and a romantic welcome gift including a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, for $739.

Dinners and Meals

La Mar Chocolate Mousse HR

A Special Evening at La Mar by Gastón Acurio

La Mar by Gastón Acurio {Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami} will serve a trio of special dishes created in celebration of romance, with Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline serving as the backdrop. Available on an á la carte basis from 5:30-11pm on February 14, the Power, Passion, and Spicy menu is priced from $9 to $25 per dish and includes:

  • Power Cebiche with scallops, oysters, and uni in a creamy rocoto leche de tigre with chalaca
  • Passion Tiradito with thinly sliced salmon, peanut sauce, and passionfruit leche de tigre
  • Spicy Parihuela, a traditional Peruvian soup with chiles, served with toasted baguette

Valentine’s Day Dinner at Azul

At Azul {Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami}, a sumptuous five-course Valentine’s Day menu will be served from 6:30-11pm on February 13 and 14 for $148 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Guests will enjoy:

  • Two glasses of Champagne per couple
  • Beausoleil Oyster with herb granita and Tellicherry
  • Citrus Marinated Beets with caviar, crème fraîche, fennel, and radish
  • Maine Lobster Espagnole with tomato, saffron, lavender, potato, and garlic
  • Wagyu Beef Duet with au poivre, onion mousse, pickled shallot, black truffle, and forest mushroom
  • His and Hers Desserts: Passionfruit Mascarpone Cream Dehydrated Strawberries with white chocolate sorbet, and Chocolate Truffle Cream Salted Caramel Crunch with peanut ice cream

Un-Valentine’s Day Boozy Brunch at Barceloneta 

Chef Juliana Gonzalez has singles and couples covered at Barceloneta {locations in South Beach and Miami Beach}. From noon to 4pm, guests can celebrate their singlehood at the Un-Valentine’s Day Boozy Brunch. For $30, one can enjoy specials à la carte and an open bar that includes: well liquors, draft beer, Aperol, and citrus popsicles, tangerine Mimosas, and a make-your-own sangría bar, including three different types of sangría with fresh fruit.

Valentine’s Day Dinner at Barceloneta 

At Barceloneta {locations in South Beach and Miami Beach}, couples can enjoy a six-course dinner for two, plus a bottle of Juve Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava, for $90. Sample menu items include Salmon Crudo with raw salmon with a citrus vinaigrette, watermelon radish, pickled grapes, and garnished with salmon roe; Fig Toast with rustic flatbread with herbed goat cheese, Port-poached figs, Forum reduction, and Paleta Iberico de Bellota Ham; Grilled Langostines with grilled prawns over a bouillabaisse broth and garnished with a fresh fennel salad; and Strawberries and Cream with compressed strawberries, stracciatella gelato, balsamic reduction, and sugared rose petals. Call for reservations.

A Special Menu at L’echon Brasserie

Chefs Jose Mendin and Josh Elliott are letting couples celebrate Valentine’s Day from Friday throuh Sunday at L’echon Brasserie {Hilton Cabana, 6261 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach}. Guests will enjoy a special menu including dishes such as Foie Gras Torchon with Sicilian pistachio, rhubarb chutney and confit, aged balsamic, and brioche; and Butter Poached Maine Lobster with sauce Américaine, orange, braised fennel, and lobster mushroom. Call for reservations: 786.483.1640.

Oratnique Interior

Lovers Lane Martini at Ortanique on the Mile

Enjoy menu specials and this V Day cocktail at Ortanique on the Mile {278 Miracle Miles, Coral Gable} from 5-11pm. Or, shake up the martini yourself with this recipe!

Lovers Lane Martini

Muddle 2 ounces watermelon in a shaker. Add 1/2 ounce St. Germaine, 1/2 ounce lychee juice, and 2 ounces Bacardi grand melon, and shake vigorously. Serve in chilled martini glass with a watermelon garnish.

The Biltmore

Valentine’s Day at The Biltmore

At Palme d’Or {1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables}, enjoy a five-course tasting menu prepared by Chef Pugin for $135 per person. Over at Fontana {1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables}, a three-course dinner for $95 per person tempts. Fontana is also offering La Settimana del Tartufo–a week of truffles! Chef Beppe will serve four courses featuring truffles for $75 per person. Make your reservations online or by calling 305.913.3200.

The Avalon

Three-Courses at A Fish Called Avalon 

Choose from a medley of offerings to create three fantastic courses for your Valentine’s Day Dinner at A Fish Called Avalon {700 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach}. Sample selections include charcoal-grilled Mediterranean Octopus or Bang Bang Shrimp for the first course; an 8oz Roquefort Filet Mignon or Macadamia-Crusted Snapper for the main course; and  Chef Kal’s Cheesecake or Classic Key Lime Pie for dessert. Pricing depends on entrée choice, and ranges from $42-$180.


Valentine’s Menu at Seaspice

A five-course menu plus a bottle of Veuve Rose at Seaspice {422 Northwest North River Drive, Miami} is a splendid way to spend Valentine’s Day with your significant other. The first course is a dozen Shigoku Oysters served family-style. The second course is a Pan-Seared Diver Scallop. The third course is Alaskan King Crab Fettuccini, and the fourth course is the Wood Oven Roasted Chateaubriand with chestnut purée, Brussels sprout petals, and fresh shaved black winter périgard truffles. For dessert, look forward to the Strawberry and Rosewater Crémeux. The dinner is $500 per couple, excluding tax and service charge.


Valentine’s Day Dinner at Siena Tavern

Siena Tavern {404 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach} is offering a four-course prix-fixe menu for $85 this Valentine’s Day. Add on an order of West Coast Oysters for $20 to start your evening, and a bottle of Champagne to make sure it stays lively and fun. Here’s a sampling of some of the dishes on the menu: Burrata with seared foie gras, walnut crème, pomegranate, and brioche toast; Beet Gnocchi; Pan Seared Branzino; and Red Velvet Cake with dark chocolate gelato and candied rose petals.

Valentine’s at Zen Sai

Indulge in a three-course dinner at Zen Sai {1001 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach} this Valentine’s Day for just $49 per person (plus tax and gratuity). The meal comes with one glass of wine or Champagne, or a specialty cocktail. Enjoy Asian-flavored dishes like Garbanzo Spring Rolls, Robata Grilled Organic Chicken Steak, and Fried Green Tea Ice Cream.

Over the past two years, Top  Wines Import–a U.S.-based importer of fine wines from around the world–has experienced tremendous growth, thanks in part to their flagship Italian wines. These wines are produced everywhere from the Alps to Sicily, and exhibit some of the world’s finest vintages. Their recent success has allowed them to present customers with excellent quality and selection. Luckily, winter is the perfect time to continue sipping. Enjoy some of Top Wines’ exciting new selections with your favorite seasonal fare.

Pinot Grigio Santa Elvira

Santa Elvira Pinot Grigio
One of the most renowned Italian wines the world over, Pinot Grigio is an excellent choice for pairing with food—especially a creamy handcrafted pasta. Born in the Lombardy region, this wine offers a delicate bouquet of acacia flowers, hawthorn, and fruit with a dry and pleasant impression on the palate.


Desmonta Nero D’Arcole
This mysterious red wine hails from Verona, the Italian city of love. It is comprised of a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Segreto dell’Enologo (Italian for winemaker’s secret). The resulting blend is deep red with a fresh, fruity nose and notes of cocoa and cherry. The full-bodied taste is soft, persistent, and slightly tannic—just like true love.


Desmonta Rinero
This bold red is a blend of predominantly Merlot grapes, balanced by 20-percent Cabernet Sauvignon. A bright ruby red, this wine bursts with flavors of blueberry and spice, and satisfies with a rich, bold texture.


Giorgi Lady Ginerva
Lauded as a “lady of wines,” Giorgi Lady Ginerva presents herself with a straw color and fruity aromas from Riesling Renano and Chardonnay grapes. Along with Sauvignon Blanc aromas, the bouquet is elegant and ample. The balance of acid and sapidity results in a harmonious white wine—a lovely match for seafood and pasta.

To learn more about Top Wines Import and where you can find these wines in your area, visit topwinesimport.com.

Chef Diego Oka

Chef Diego Oka

By Maya Silver | Editor 

If you were offered an executive chef position at age 21, would you take it? Diego Oka did, and it’s been a wild decade since.

It all began with Oka’s first real job after graduating from culinary school. To get his foot in the door at Ichiban, a traditional Japanese restaurant in Lima, Peru, he had to put in his time as a dishwasher before a position in the kitchen opened up. When he finally made it behind Ichiban’s line, he began what he describes as the best experience of his life—an intense journey of learning wherein he connected with the cuisine of his Japanese heritage.

After Oka left Ichiban to study Japanese, famed Peruvian Chef Gastón Acurio offered Oka a weekend gig making maki and sushi at one of his Lima-based restaurants. Soon after, Acurio—whom Oka considers his idol—extended another offer to the 21-year-old: the executive chef position at his small restaurant, Sogo Room. Setting insecurities aside, Oka accepted, but after six months, realized he wanted to be in a position of learning, rather than leading. “I was too young. I wanted to continue learning and growing,” Oka says.

But Acurio wasn’t ready to let the young talent go, so he lassoed him into a new project in his docket: La Mar. In 2005, the first La Mar opened in Lima. In spite of Acurio’s cajoling, Oka refused the head chef position once more in favor of mentorship. But after three short months, the head chef quit right in the middle of dinner service, and Oka jumped head-first into the role. Since then, Oka’s been involved with the opening of La Mar locations in Mexico City, Columbia, San Francisco, and now, Miami.

La Mar's majestic terrace

La Mar’s majestic terrace

While all La Mar restaurants have the same heart, each panders to its unique location. Tucked within the Mandarin Oriental, La Mar Miami’s {500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami} interior melds the wood and rock elements of the local beach with the tranquil turquoises of Peru’s cebicherías. La Mar Miami’s menu—which Acurio and Oka designed together—is traditional Peruvian at its core, though sourcing the many chiles and nearly 3,000 types of potatoes available fresh in Lima is an impossibility. “Fresh chiles from Mexico are better than frozen chiles from Peru,” Oka says.

Still, he’s always looking for new ingredients to fill his 60-percent traditional, 40-percent experimental menu.

La Mar Chocolate Mousse HR

First-timers at La Mar might be a bit overwhelmed by the vast menu with so many unexplored dishes boasting Andean, African, Japanese, and many other influences. No matter which culinary course of action you chart, be sure to try one of the many ceviches, Peru’s national dish. Oka recommends the Ceviche Mario with shrimp, fish, octopus, mussels, and fried calamari on top. Two temperatures and two textures make for a rich tasting experience. Oka also encourages sharing. “The menu is family-style so that you can try different plates and flavors.”

La Mar Jalea Frita

There’s one Peruvian dish that you may only catch—if you’re lucky— on special occasions at La Mar: guinea pig. “People are intrigued by the flavors,” Oka says. “I know that, in America, guinea pig is a pet, but we don’t buy it at PetSmart!”

When Oka served guinea pig for a Peruvian Independence Day event at La Mar San Francisco, he marinated it with garlic, cumin, oregano, and dark beer. Then he dried it, and deep-fried it. We’ll toast to that with a Pisco Sour—one of La Mar’s varieties with ginger beer, to boot.

Whether you settle into the ceviche bar, the anticucho bar, the alfresco terrace on the water, or the contemporary dining room, you’ll be welcomed into Acurio’s and Oka’s rich and singular world where African anticuchos (kebabs) coexist with made-to-order ceviches, Chinese fried rice, and nigiri. It’s a fun world, and we assure you it’s worth a visit.