Though Brazilian, the charming chef-owner of Tutto’s Mare extends his love of seafood across borders and continents, from spaghetti alla vongole to Creole shrimp in mashed yuca, with mostly good results.
Joao Oliveira’s quirky, off-the-beaten-path spot in The Roads neighborhood is a place worth taking the whole family. An affordable, cut-above kid’s menu with rigatoni, chicken Milanese and real fish means you often seen several generations dining together.
The low-ceilinged space with gray tile floors and tightly packed tables is clean and comfortable, fronted by a handsome blond-wood bar and freshly refurbished patio. The open kitchen is framed by cushy booths, swirly oil paintings and amber lighting.
The neatly dressed servers are friendly, knowledgeable and attentive in Spanish, English, Portuguese and even Italian.
The strongest flavors here are Latin American. On two visits we sampled some of the freshest and best-balanced ceviches I’ve had in Miami. A rather tame habanero version with slices of tender corvina in a celery sauce gets texture from plump kernels of purple corn and a perfectly golden medallion of fried plantain. The so-called crispy ceviche is topped with ringlets of calamari that add nice crunch and chewiness.
A gorgeously lithe octopus leg is silken and well-seasoned. Topped with a briny olive tapenade and served alongside a boiled baby potato with sprigs of infant arugula, it exemplifies what’s best about this neighborhood gem.
Spaghetti alla vongole (with a noodle more square than round) is exceptionally well done, its intense sauce given depth by white wine and lots of fresh parsley. The clams are tender and tasty though slightly gritty.
The soul-satisfying arroz con mariscos is loaded with pinky-sized shrimp, lobster, supple lozenges of white fish and baby black mussels in a tomato-tinged criolla sauce.
Perhaps my favorite dish, the bacalao al la portuguesa, is a must-order for salt-cod lovers. The tender, flaky, fist-sized hunk of fish is bathed in a sweet tomato sauce dotted with shiny kalamata olives.
A few dishes we sampled fell short, including a dense artichoke soufflé, overly cheesy scallops gratinée and a flabby half Maine lobster served with chewy hanger steak. Freshly baked bread arrived at the table still warm, along with a watery eggplant dip, but had an odd, off-putting aroma.
The sprawling menu, with more than 50 items including specials, could use editing, as could the ho-hum wine list. It offers the basics (a dozen Old and New World whites and a few more reds) at reasonable prices but with no descriptions or vintages and few-by-the-glass options. We hoped for a glass of albariño from Rias Baixas, but they were out. It’s perhaps safest to stick with a simple, fruity sangria.
Desserts are uneven. Jiggly panna cotta di maracuya benefits from fresh, tangy bits of passion fruit, but a so-called flourless chocolate tort tasted instead like one of those ubiquitous chocolate molten cupcakes, served with vanilla ice cream shot through with shards of ice.
There’s a little too much going on at this ambitious newcomer, but much of it is good.
Contact Victoria at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.