In Coral Gables, a few places—old and new—stand out. Veteran chef Pascal Oudin, and his Pascal’s on Ponce, is still the best classic French Restaurant in town. His timeless dishes include the Twice Baked upside down Gruyere cheese soufflé and his Mediterranean Bouillabaisse soup.
Ortanique on the Mile, almost two decades old, continues to receive accolades not only from the critics but from diners that find Cindy Hutson’s unique “Cuisine of the Sun” an experience that keeps them coming back for more. A warm décor and a welcoming staff entice to sit down, relax and have an award winning Mojito, munching on West Indian Curry Crab Cake or the best Conch Fritters ever. New entrees include Coffee and Cocoa Encrusted Wild Salmon with creamy corn polenta, sautéed baby bock choy, and chipotle agave glaze. But her classics, that will never go away are my winning choices: Pan Seared Grouper (sometimes Mahi) marinated in teriyaki and sesame oil with an ortanique orange liqueur and Bacardi Limón sauce topped with steamed seasoned chayote and carrots on a citrus sweet plantain-boniato mash. Another of my favorites is the West Indian Style Bouillabaisse, with diver scallops, mediterranean mussels, middleneck clams, shrimp, grouper, mahi and salmon with aromatic jasmine rice in a deliciously flavored but light coconut curried broth. Best ending to any meal at Ortanique is with a good cup of Jamaican coffee and her Sticky Toffee Pudin or Homemade Cinnamon Atlantico Rum Cake.
On Ponce de Leon and Coral Way, Sushisamba, the outpost of the very established and reliable Lincoln Road original location, serves the Sushisamba standards and others creations by star chef David Sears. Robata Grilled Haas Avocado seasoned with shichimi togarashi, crispy slivers of garlic, tofu crema and su-shogu is unexpectedly delicious even for those who don’t like avocado. Tender and flavorful Grilled Octopus is accompanied by chorizo, Castelvetrano olives, perfectly tender slices of slow-olive-oil-cooked potato confit and aji panca emulsion. But if you order any of the Samba Rolls, I recommend El Topo, salmon, jalapeno, shiso leaf, melted mozzarella, and crispy onion, or the Samba Coral Gables, with steamed lobster, avocado, red jalapeño, chive, sweet chili, key lime, and tobiko. You will experience a real mouthfull of ingredients and flavors. Robata Grilled items and Wood Oven roasted dishes are meant to satisfy your craving for flavorfully cooked vegetable, seafood, and meats.
Bulla Gastrobar has been making a lot of bulla—slang for chatter—since opening a couple of years ago, and with good reason. Their Spanish and Catalan dishes hit the mark in every way. A dynamic environment, always buzzing with people’s energy, laughter, and chat, is fueled by their enjoyment in dishes like Patatas Bravas, golden delicious fried potato morsels drizzled with fiery but sweet pimentos spiked Brava Sauce as well as Garlic Aioli. Same as potatoes, eggs are staples in Spanish cooking, and here their Huevos Bulla, a jumbo farm egg with homemade potato chips is complemented with Serrano ham, potato foam, and truffle oil. Expect garlicky gambas al ajillo, codfish fritters served alongside a light homemade tartar sauce and creamy and dreamy Ham Croquettes with Fig Jelly. The menu is extensive, and there is something for everyone, especially if you go in a group and want to laugh and have fun.
Another Spanish restaurant with a cheeky name is Piripi, which means tipsy. After a “tipsy” opening, filled with Latin soap opera quality drama (previous opening Star Chef Najad Kaanache stirred the pot in more ways than just to cook, forcing her dramatic departure). A brand newcomer Chef Angelina Batidas took over Piripi’s kitchen. The space is now filled with a great bar crowd that enjoys their daily happy hour where a Tapas menu complements their excellent cocktail and wine by the glass list. The dinner menu features small plates of wonderfully prepared Poached and Grilled Spanish Octopus; Pan Fried Chistorra sausages with crispy potato, sous vide egg and Manchego foam; and Pork Belly Confit with Brandy and Raisin Glaze. When it comes to large plates, I like the Bacalao al Pil Pil, a Basque Country classic, made much lighter at Piripi, and the Fideos & Gambas, with Key West Pink Shrimp, cooked with fidelini pasta, cream sherry and candied garlic. A delight! Paellas and Rice are Piripi’s specialties. Don’t miss the Meloso with Bogavante, creamy rice with Maine Lobster and Shrimp or the Braised Pork Cheeks and Chicken Paella. ■