Posted April 27, 2015
By BRANDON MICHAELS
Brickell continues to be one of the hottest entertainment and dining areas in Miami. No longer is downtown Miami’s sole purpose the Port of Miami. Within the last ten plus years the downtown Miami area has transformed from an area of underdeveloped and vacant lots to a downtown with a true city feel that givens even born and raised New Yorkers a slight familiarity.
Downtown Miami, Brickell Avenue especially, offers the perfect middle ground for the local who does not want to be sucked in to the flashy South Beach scene, but still wants a good meal. With new buildings going up around the area left and right, restaurants are opening with prime locations and plenty of demand. In recent months a few restaurants have opened up that dare to challenge the established staples of Brickell’s restaurant hierarchy.
Brickell offers a less touristy feel, but the same great opportunity to find good food as South Beach. Just like in South Beach, beware of the brand name restaurant that charges for the name on the door, not the quality of the food – I’m talking to you Prime 112.
With limited parking in Brickell, due to the congested city feel and amount of construction, valet is offered at the majority of restaurants. Be sure to get your parking validated, but expect to pay $15 to $20, for parking – it’s not cheap, so carpool if you can.
Coya, an offshoot of Miami powerhouse Zuma, has opened offering Peruvian style cuisine to rival La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental, which seemingly opened just months prior. The true question becomes, can the two restaurants coexists so close to one another if they are basically doing the same food. Peruvian food does not have the draw of something like Italian, which, Tamarina, focusing on costal Italian cuisine, opened right between the two.
Tamarina has been rumored to rival the Italian food of restaurant giant Il Gabbiano.
All three restaurants do have a common thread. Investor-restaurateur Arjun Waney, co-owner of Zuma, is the main backer behind Coya, which took over the space of the former Italian restaurant Lippi. In both ventures Waney is joined by backers Yona and Tunu Puri. Waney, as his track records proves, almost never fails to disappoint by taking great locations with unlimited potential and turning them into upscale powerhouses.
Spoiler alert, only one follows through. Coya and La Mar are completely comparable. No one beats Il Gabbiano at Italian. That’s not saying that Tamarina is not one of the best new restaurants in Brickell, it is. Tamarina does Italian food proud, but in a completely different way.
Coya beats La Mar in décor by far, if you can find your way around. Coya has three rooms separated by a bit of a maze if you are going for the first time. Entering you walk in to the main bar area with a banquette lounge area opposite the bar. From there, there are two other rooms, the main dining room and the private lounge where, unless you are a regular like me since the open, you can only aspire to be invited.
Coya is hipper, cooler and has the vibe inside of the restaurant that you want to be seen at. It is a trendy restaurant with a level of sophistication Peruvian food gives that you do not get by telling your friends you are out for a burger and beer at American Social.
La Mar’s décor is more simplistic and, while the floor plan of one open dining room might be preferred, the décor is more subtle and feels like the restaurant I would go to if I were in shorts and a t-shirt. It is a more casual feel for food that is intended to be served on a beach.
Tamarina might be the most elegant of them all. With high ceilings, elegant chandeliers and historical Italian photographs on the walls – the owners nailed their intended perception. The restaurant screams, “we’re more sophisticated than the majority of Italian restaurant, but also approachable with our ‘wall of fame’ of celebrity Italian grandparents.”
For me, it is hard to sit inside a restaurant when it has outdoor seating. Outdoor seating makes most restaurants and the ones that do not have it suffer because of it. (Unless they are in Miami in the summer when diners do not want to sweat through an entire meal).
Coya lacks the waterfront property that its sister restaurant Zuma kills.
The selling point of La Mar, however, is its waterfront outdoor seating. It might be the reason that I go to La Mar. La Mar features the best waterfront views of any restaurant in Brickell and, while Coya has the trendy interior décor, it only has a front porch patio that faces Biscayne Boulevard. It seems to exist for use by waiting guests on busy nights and international guests to take their mid-meal cigarette break. The porch, if you will, is dimly lit and not set for tables and clearly was intended as the restaurant equivalent of your standard doctor’s office waiting room.
Tamarina may beat Il Gabbiano in one thing, its bar. Stealing from the Zuma restaurant formula, both Tamarina and Coya have excelled at making themselves top bar locations in Brickell. While La Mar has that slight family feel, Coya and Tamarina have spacious and hip bars.
At Coya, standing at the bar you are coming for the crowd and maybe not even intending on eating at any point during the night. Tamarina has a long bar, far enough away from the tables in the dining room so you are not standing over a couple sitting at a 2 top table, like you might at Il Gabbiano.
Tamarina offers the option of eating your meal at the bar, which is a great option for diners who may find themselves out for a meal by themselves, or someone who wants conversation along with their meal.
Coya and La Mar have food that is comparable. La Mar is smart on a couple of fronts on its menu. While Coya’s ceviche all have that “wow factor,” La Mar offers a ceviche sampler that offers its three most popular for $29, (as apposed to paying $16+ for each). La Mar also offers this with their causas, whipped Peruvian potatoes. La Mar’s ceviche offering are more expensive and Coya’s, quite frankly, are superior. I highly suggest the snapper with truffles and the tuna.
Coya thrives on working with contrasting textures; personified in its two best dishes, beef tataki and tuna nikkei. Coya seems to be going for the clean, health food route on their menu. For a more hearty Peruvian meal La Mar delivers. The Peruvian fried rice, mirroring paella, is fantastic. The same can be said for the squid ink pasta and the Wagu beef skewers.
Tamarina also offers some ceviche options in the form or Crudo, Carpacicio and Tartare. The crudo are the way to go. Other phenomenal appetizers include the buratta and pulpo. Entrees are also impressive, with my favorites the salmon and roasted lobster. If you are going for dessert Tamarina is the way to go with their showstopper being their bombe Tiramisu. Unlike any other you have ever seen, it is molded into a ball dipped in white chocolate, finished with a gold leaf over Oreo crumbs and drunken cherries. It is the perfect end of a meal.
There are several important distinctions for all three restaurants, especially the two Peruvian establishments. Working with fish and ceviche, the menus are pricey with check averages around $50 per person, plus an automatic 18 percent gratuity. All three restaurants run excellent business lunches, with three course specials that are insanely affordable, almost a steal, if you are looking to experience the restaurant without the whole menu.
La Mar offers an exquisite brunch, something that Coya does not offer at this time (it has only been open five weeks). If you are in the market for a Brickell brunch, my suggestion is Zuma – you will not find a better one anywhere else. La Mar brunch starts at $85 (alcohol included), Zuma is $95 with all the Japanese offerings you could possible imagine – don’t miss the Wagu beef sushi.
All three restaurants are fantastic and will undoubtedly be staples in the Brickell food scene. With the ever-expanding scene in Brickell there will be no problem for all these restaurants to coexist.
999 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Fla.
Hours: Lunch: Mondays – Fridays: 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.; Dinner: Mondays – Thursdays: 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. , Fridays – Saturdays: 6 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.
Price Range: $31 to $50
Dress Code: Fine dining. Smart casual
Payment options: AMEX, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, Visa
Rating: 4 out of 5
500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami, Fla.
Dining Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. , Dinner 6 p.m. -11 p.m., Sunday Brunch 12 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Bar Hours: Sundays through Thursdays 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. , Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Dress Code: Smart casual
Price Range: $31 to $50
Payment Options: AMEX, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, Visa
600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Fla.
Hours: Lunch Mondays through Fridays – 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. , Lounge – 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Dinner: Mondays through Sundays – 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Bar: Mondays through Sundays – 12 p.m. to 1 a.m., Happy Hour: Mondays through Fridays – 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Dress Code: Smart casual
Price Range: $31 to $50
Payment Options: AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa