A famously carnivorous country, Uruguay is renowned for its voracious appetite for beef. They now sear and swallow even more than their meat-happy Argentine neighbor.
For such a tiny country (3.4 million people on a land mass about the size of Missouri), its reputation for food is outsized. One beachfront restaurant in the town of José Ignacio Parador La Huella (par-uh-dawr la way-shuh) is especially beloved.
So, how did its “urban reinvention” land on Miami’s Brickell Plaza? Turns out the managing director of Swire Hotels, Brian Williams, had heard about the little seaside eatery that could and booked a flight. After meeting owners Gustavo Barbero, Martin Pittaluga and Guzman Artagaveytia, he knew they had to bring their concept to the big city (Centre).
Thus Quinto La Huella (The Fifth Footprint), named for its location on the fifth floor of EAST, Miami, found its way to the luxurious $1.05 billion-with-a-b development.
Charming and elegant at once with gorgeous organic textures of wood, linen, stone, copper and brass, the space meanders like a shallow river. The scratch-sexy samba music follows us out, to the patio where we are greeted by a handsome young staff who chirp, “Welcome to paradise.”
Despite La Quinta’s solid meat rep, the menu offers as many sea as land animals in addition to a surprisingly generous selection of vegetarian options.
On our first visit, I was ready to love it despite servers who were better looking than trained. When they were not absent, ours were as eager as high school boys on prom night. One kept yanking away dishes that were not yet finished and opened multiple bottles of pricey mineral water without asking.
I would overlook that if the food were more consistent. As the menu promises, “no inventamos nada.” Fine with me. I love simple. Like classic grilled provolone cheese and crispy pizzas, a couple of pastas, small parrilla with lamb, snapper, chicken and, of course, Uruguayan grass fed beef.
An anachronistic sushi menu — really? — is offered, too.
Executive chef Nano Crespo knows how to stoke a wood-chugging grill, and most of what comes to the table proves it.
A juicy and perfectly medium (pink and cool in the center) entrecote, a half-inch of gorgeously marbled boneless ribeye sprinkled with rock salt and seared to a nice minerally char is tender and tasty with nice — sometimes too big — ribbons of fat throughout. However, it was the only beef on the menu from Uruguay.
A beautiful skin-on red snapper splayed on a wooden board with perfectly even lashes of grill marks is a winner from local waters.
However, so many other dishes miss the mark. What is described as a shrimp confit causa includes a creamy pile of shrimp over a waxy bit of smashed yellow potato and a thread-thin drizzle of oil. It is causa-ish but lacked punch I hoped for from the aji amarillo that is in the description.
Also missing from an otherwise delicious kale salad with toasty breadcrumbs and panes of Parmesan were the promised olives. We got a briny pleasure instead from the spicy orange, neonata fish preserve in the dressing.
A stringy and slightly sour burrata is surrounded with mushy curves of squash, while a muscle-ey single tentacle of octopus is showered in a smoky paprika and served over rounds of potato. Both are one dimensional without a hint of textural or flavor contrast.
Likewise, crab cakes served three to an order (three, really? why three for a table of four?) are profoundly boring with a frisee salad sidecar so salty that we left it to garnish.
A soupy spaghetti with manila clams and gremolata was a minute too long in the water, and the swordfish had a stiff, dry texture.
An alluring pizza draped in gooey provolone is covered in nests of sweet, caramelized onions that might have been improved with a little less salt and oil and some of the promised fresh oregano.
A well-tended and pricey wine list includes some gorgeous north and South American bottles and a few Old World additions, as well. In addition to a tour of high-end Malbecs, there are some simple rustic bottles (only a few) starting at $45.
Pastry chef Florencia Courreges, wife of chef Alejandro Morales, offers exotic treats like dulce de leche volcano. We must have picked badly with a coconut cake that is more like a dry macaroon.
For a nightcap, we took a ride up the elevator to Sugar, the 40th floor rooftop lounge where the views were dramatic even with so many people packed in. There I felt the promise of more nights to come. And, I will try this Fifth Footprint again since so many dishes were so very close to excellence. And it is, after all, a gorgeous little taste of Uruguay.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense. Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE
If You Go
Place: Quinto La Huella
Rating: ☆ ☆ 1/2 (Good)
Address: EAST, Miami, 788 Brickell Plaza, One Brickell City Centre
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, 6:30 a.m.-midnight; Thursday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday brunch, noon-4:30 pm. ($49/person, kids 3-10 $22.50, unlimited rosé $25)
Prices: Appetizers, $14-$20; entrees, $21-$31, parrilla plates, $23-$38; salads, $12-$15; sides, $9; sushi, $12-$28; desserts, $10.
FYI: Full bar; valet parking at $20 with validation; reservations available by email or phone; corkage $45/bottle; AX, DS, MC, VS
What The Stars Mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)