OK, maybe not quite perfect, but Perfecto Gastrobar is awfully fun, and the food is delicious.
It’s the first Miami venture for Oscar Manresa, a well-known restaurateur from Barcelona who brings the same energy and quality to Brickell Avenue.
Guests walk under a red marquee into a world that feels as happy and welcoming as an air-conditioned movie theater on an August afternoon.
The industrial-chic space with soaring ceilings is filled with aromas of spices and meats from the open kitchen and the sounds of lively dance remixes spun by staff DJ Ferran Lozano, one of many Catalan imports contributing to the authentically Spanish feel. The wide-open terrace with cozy sofas and the rustic, wood-accented interior amplify the effect.
The menu is stocked with quality products like glistening anchovies, both plump, pickled boquerones and cured ones from the Cantabrian Sea; knobby fuet, the hard, dry-cured, salami-like Catalan sausage; an array of Spanish cheeses and the elite Cinco Jotas (5Js) bellota jamon Iberico.
Manresa has also brought front- and back-of-the-house talent from home. The young, friendly, bilingual waiters and bartenders are quick with a recommendation, a joke and always a smile.
Their top suggestions included the delectable chicken croquettas, perfect orbs with a feathery dusting of breadcrumbs and a tiny dollop of aioli to lend even more richness. Patatas bravas are perfect little bronzed cubes covered in spicy chile and the same creamy aioli, while pan con tomate is equally iconic.
In addition to the classics there are exciting options like chunks of juicy watermelon infused with sangria and mojito-injected melons. Salmon and tuna tartare served in tiny, crunchy cones like a scoop of ice cream are also popular, gently seasoned and very fresh.
We liked the so-called avocado cannelloni, which consists of layers of ripe avocado overlapped over a mound of briny lump crab meat subtly hit with fresh ginger, though it could have used some contrasting crunch or more microgreens for textural contrast. Also good were the thumb-thick octopus chunks served over discs of gently roasted potatoes.
Beginning at noon, a steady flow of suits arrive for lunch specials for under $20. Then, it’s happy hour (four of them, actually), with buy-one-get-ones and lots of tapas specials from 4 to 8 o’clock.
The well-curated, Spanish-centric wine list runs the gamut from a young $27 verdejo and lots of $30-something reds all the way up to a hard-to-find 1998 Bodegas Vega-Sicilia Ribera del Duero Valbuena 5° that rivals some of France’s best Bordeaux. Beer and cocktail lovers can get Spanish choices as well.
The menu offers large and varied entree-size dishes, including three generous versions of paella made for sharing. We were disappointed that the kitchen had run out of fideu, the angel hair-like pasta paella, the night we were there. Instead we had a decent version of arroz negro, inky black, salty, dense rice loaded with tender baby squid.
Another rare and welcome find in Miami is cochinillo crujiente, crispy suckling pig done in the traditional Catalan style. Honestly, it was a challenge to sample even a fraction of the menu because many of the portions are large. It’s best to go with a big party here.
On the suggestion of a cute young waitress, we ordered the ganache de chocolate, a fluffy, almost mousse-like version, and ate every bite with salty, see-through sheets of toast. A lighter dessert is the pineapple and mango ravioli floating in a lychee soup with coconut ice cream.
Nearly perfecto — if pricey —for a girls’ night out, an office party or a first date.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
Contact Victoria Pesce Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.