Dining review

Dolores/Lolita team takes fun formula to Coral Gables

 

If you go

Place: Love is Blind

Rating: * * 1/2 (Good)

Address: 225 Altara Ave., Coral Gables

Contact: 305-748-6118, loveisblindrestaurant.com

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday- Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.- midnight, Thursday, 11:30 a.m.- 1 a.m. Friday, noon- 1 a.m. Saturday, noon-11 p.m. Sunday

Prices: entrees $18-$25 (includes appetizer), desserts $3-$6

FYI: Full bar; corkage $15. Metered self-parking; valet $7. AX, DN, DS MC, VS.


Special to the Miami Herald

Quirky name, sexy décor, cool soundtrack, fun bar scene, affordable menu and adorable servers. That’s what made successes of Carlos Galan and JC Chamizo’s Brickell area hot spots, Dolores But You can Call Me Lolita and Crazy About You. The Spanish restaurateurs bring the same fun formula to Coral Gables with Love Is Blind.

With an eye-popping setting that juxtaposes old and new to gorgeous effect, Love is worth a visit, though not necessarily for the food. Cathedral-high ceilings glow above hundreds of dripping candles, and the bar sparkles beneath modern chandeliers. Stone walls are stenciled with thought-provoking sayings (“Love is not something you look for … Love is something you become”), the open kitchen bustles, and the tables (except for a kindergarten-size set in the corner) are comfortably spaced for romantic conversation.

The mostly male servers, outfitted in suspenders and bow-ties, are young and charming, if sometimes a bit clueless. But what they lack in experience they more than make up for in personality. “Have you been here before?,” they ask. If not, expect a quick explanation of how the menu works. At both lunch and dinner, customers choose entrees from three price categories, with appetizers included gratis. Spanish speakers will have an easier time, but all are made to feel welcome.

A budget wine list includes lots of imported bottles and by-the-glass options that start at just $4. The cocktail crowd congregates at the bar, where it gets quite lively (and loud) after dark.

The menu generally plays it safe with salads, calamari, spring rolls, pizzas, roast chicken, short ribs and a few simple seafood dishes. An “I can’t believe it’s not pasta” linguini made with endless strings of tender zucchini is tossed in a tangy tomato-vodka sauce but dragged down by too much gloppy mozzarella. (Next time I’d ask for a sprinkling of Parmesan instead.)

The best dish we sampled was the lovely juevos rotos, two fried eggs served in a cast iron skillet over crispy cubes potatoes and draped with two perfectly fresh-cut sheets of velvety jamon Iberico. Unfortunately, the mix included a half-dozen charcoal-black french fries that apparently had been left in the fryer for several rounds before landing haphazardly on our plate.

Salads are fresh but can get weary from carrying a heavy load of balsamic dressing. Croquettes, claiming to be “perhaps the best you ever tasted,” are indeed deliciously hot, crisp and salty with only a hint of jamon but plenty of melty cheese and a breading that is a bit thick. Pizzas are uniformly well-handled with a pliable, thin and gently scorched crust and well-balanced toppings.

Grilled dishes, including a picture-perfect chicken paillard piled high with crunchy confetti of yellow squash and zucchini, are stunningly seasoned but also carry a distinct flavor of propane. The same goes for the veal churrasco, a tasty dish accented with a side of moros y cristianos as well as a sweet plantain mash. A pedestrian salmon fillet lacked zest.

Desserts continue the playful theme that can make a meal here a delight despite food that’s just OK. The American Dream fills the table, first with a plate as big as a pizza box and a basket that includes an old-fashioned soda-shop scooper of creamy vanilla ice cream, a squeeze bottle of chocolate syrup, a shaker of cocoa, sliced strawberries a swirl of what tastes just like Cool Whip and a big fat brownie loaded with chocolate chips. It comes with instructions on how to eat the dessert and how to write a life-changing message.

Love may be blind, but it also involves a good bit of luck. Here you may be lucky to win a free dinner for two if your photo or message from this little art experiment is chosen.

Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.

Contact Victoria Pesce Elliott at vpevpe@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.

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