The chamber of whimsy that is Coral Gables’ Love Is Blind would have you believe they’d rather play with their food here than cook it.
The decor — call it smartly organized nuttiness — tells that kind of story. The walls are grafittied with feel-good adages, many of them about love and its many splendored things. A riotous variety of pendant lamps hangs from a circular dome over the big, manly bar. At various spots around the cavernous restaurant, you’ll find framed butterflies, mounted toro heads, sculptures of pineapples, candles in cages, surely hundreds of candles in candleholders (who lights all these things every night?), serpentine chandeliers, an impossible array of seating styles, portholes, gear wheels and a DJ station featuring (why not?) a gramophone.
You’ll leave Love Is Blind feeling like you’ve visited something designed by Jane Austen on mescaline. But you’ll also take away memories of tasty, accessible food that touches a variety of cuisines and respects their traditions. The three-outlet Passion Restaurant Group, a local restaurant chain that hit the scene in 2007 with Dolores, But You Can Call Me Lolita, has a passion for intricate detail in decor, and they bring that same focus to their highly structured menu.
All three places — Dolores, Love Is Blind and Crazy About You — organize their offerings in the same way, with tier-priced entrees that include an appetizer. Prices are similar at all three, and Love Is Blind ranges from $19.99 (burger-pizza-pasta and the like) up to $33.99 (Chilean sea bass, filet mignon, short rib). For a restaurant that occupies a big corner of the Collection Building near the tony Shoppes of Merrick Park, the prices are fair and the portions range from large to immense.
You’ll want to start with the signature appetizer, Serrano ham croquetas, the most popular dish in the whole company. Five to an order, the croquetas are wonderfully melty bombs of ground Serrano ham, breadcrumbs and bechamel, fresh-fried to order.
The Spanish influence continues with huevos rotos, a mini cast-iron pan supporting three fried eggs and a lot of confit-style potatoes, with a blanket of Serrano ham on top. It you’re a light eater, this is really enough.
The server will make your Ces-Art Salad, shaken not stirred, tableside, showing up with a large jar of Romaine, croutons and Parmesan, dolloping in Caesar dressing, sealing the jar, shaking it up and presenting it on a plate. Nothing remarkable, just a strongly executed Caesar complete with a show.
Oyster bisque is poured tableside, as well, from a tiny pitcher, the rich, creamy classic laced with garlic and dotted with Parmesan croutons.
Starters veer off into Asia, with good, straight-ahead versions of vegetable spring rolls with spring mix and homemade sweet and sour sauce. Tuna tataki is blackened briefly and served with tangerines, ginger, spring mix and ponzu sauce.
Entrees get creative in the rich and delicious quinoa pad Thai with shrimp, the organic quinoa is wok-fried with five jumbo shrimp, bok choy, eggs, cabbage and mushrooms and flavored with peanut sauce.
The cultural fusion dish Chino Latino pairs fried mahi-mahi with a Chinese takeout container of vegetable fried rice, served on a fish-themed plate with a spicy soy-sesame sauce. Our huge portion of mahi was fresh and light; the supply of fried rice is so ample it can be tomorrow’s breakfast.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Pasta matches linguine-like noodles made entirely of zucchini with a Grey Goose vodka cream sauce studded with chunks of salmon. Parmesan cheese shaved on top adds saltiness.
You’ll rarely find a roasted chicken as good as the one here. The half-chicken’s worth of pieces are initially cooked confit style in olive oil, then roasted in the brick oven to crisp the skin, resulting in unusually tender meat with deep flavor. It’s served with potatoes, also cooked confit style.
Applewood boneless short rib is also cooked two ways, first grilled and then roasted. The generous serving comes with confit-style potatoes and assorted seasonal vegetables, such as yellow, white and orange cauliflower.
Dessert time is when things get corny. They haul out a two-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower from which hang wooden cards announcing the options (there aren’t many). The one that best caps the Love Is Blind experience is Message in a Bottle, which comes with a seven-bullet-point set of instructions. Working “Chopped”-style with ingredients in a basket, you assemble a chocolate brownie sundae thing with ice cream, chocolate sauce and strawberries, take and post your Instagram photo (some of them are very creative-looking), then write something witty and drop it into the bottle provided.
Each month’s best message wins dinner for two. And maybe gets painted on the wall?
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
If you go
Place: Love Is Blind
Address: 225 Altara Ave., Collection Building, Coral Gables
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ (Very Good)
Contact: 305-748-6118; loveisblindrestaurant.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Tuesday; till 10:30 Wednesday-Thursday; till midnight Friday; 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday-Sunday.
Prices: Entree-appetizer combos range from $19.99 to $33.99 with minor upcharges in some cases.
FYI: All major credit cards. Reservations accepted. $20 corkage fee but good wine list, cheap house wine and half-price wine on Wednesday. Drinks-only happy hour 4-8 p.m. every day.
What the stars mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)