Restaurant News & Reviews

Fairy tale-like Los Fuegos is a bona fide winner

Argentine-style grilled meat offerings abound at Los Fuegos by Francis Mallman.
Argentine-style grilled meat offerings abound at Los Fuegos by Francis Mallman.

We have Prometheus to thank. Not only did this mythical Greek deity shape humans from a lump of clay, he also gifted us fire stolen from Mount Olympus. It only seems right to include him as a collaborator on Los Fuegos at Faena Hotel.

He is one of many big names on that list. Whatever you see, touch or taste at Faena has a bold-faced name attached to it.

So, it’s not a surprise that the hotel’s main restaurant, an Argentine grill, is shaped by one of that country’s most recognizable chefs, Francis Mallmann. It overlooks a 10-foot-high, gold woolly mammoth skeleton sculpture by artist Damien Hirst called Gone But Not Forgotten. The flamboyant film director Baz Luhrmann and costume designer wife Catherine Martin contributed to the “set design,” uniforms and over-the-top décor. Even the menu opens to a quote by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

The lounge and veranda feature chandelier sculptures by Italian artist Alberto Garutti made with nearly 800 bulbs that flash every time lightning strikes the pampas lowlands.

All this might sound pretentious, but instead, it is the perfect culinary fairy tale.

A bright, on-the-ball hostess found our reservation in a moment and was comfortable chatting with us while walking us to one of the 17 lacquered burled wood tables inside the regal gold-and-red dining room. Outside, the covered terrace area is more desirable in cooler months.

A live band and a cool DJ take turns creating an eclectic mix of ’80s pop to Latin jazz in the adjacent Living Room.

While looking over the menu, a well-curated, leather-bound volume, we cherished a basket of Miami’s best French breads, a simple stalk of pain d’epi whose delightfully rustic, golden, crackling crust and a sublime salted, clean butter was better than any first date I’ve had.

Must-order starters include a pair of empanadas that are the Plutonian ideal of the rustic meat packet. Their dough is salty and soft but chewy, like a fine Roman pizza with puffy, scorched bubbles from the hot flames. The stuffing is a gently seasoned chopped filet served with a fresh tomato Llajua Sauce, a mix of fresh tomato and vinegar, lemon and olive oil.

A velvety almond soup served cold like an ajo blanco is bejeweled with cubes of sweet watermelon and pools of sherry vinegar.

Salads, including a fine rendition of a beet and chevre as well as a stunning pink grapefruit number flocked with sheets of real Parmigiano-Reggiano and smoky whole toasted hazelnuts, are simple and sensational.

Delicate sweetbreads are buttery inside and crispy outside with the sort of rich intensity that makes them irresistible.

Main courses include, of course, a fine parrillada with plump chorizo, morcilla, tasty skirt steak and prime rib. But it is the richly decadent square of lechon braised for more than five hours with wine and herbs that begged me back for more. The tightly pressed plank of pig is then roasted until it earns its crispy, crackling deeply satisfying shell.

Equally delicious is the trio of thumb-thick prawns served over saffron rice made smoky with crimson paprika with dollops of rich aioli and flecked with fresh herbs.

A fat rib-eye is gorgeously marbled and cooked until the edges darken to near black and the inside stays a tender pink.

Pescatarians will favor the flaky, gorgeously splayed branzino, enough for two to share. It is a rare pleasure of pure fish goodness.

Tender moonlets of butternut squash ravioli called sorrentinos with sage butter, almonds, arugula and a bright hit of lemon zest are a satisfying vegetarian option.

Sides, too, like a sculptural ratatouille and wilted spinach are as elegant as the many pairs of Gucci loafers seen padding through the red carpet entryway.

All these stunningly charred, crisped and scorched wonders are achieved by a fire-breathing oven hand-crafted for Mallmann in Texas. The 11-by-3-foot beast is dubbed “the piano,” presumably for its dimensions and ability to create such melodious meals.

Desserts are, thankfully, petitely portioned but fantastically sweet. The best among them is the dulce de leche crepes with bittersweet burnt orange skins to balance.

All the food is exquisite. The dining area is resplendent and the service smarter than what you find in this town — but still good looking.

Drawbacks include a drastic markup on wines and cocktails and noise levels that can get uncomfortable.

Still, a night out with the flame-licked fare that has come to define Francis Mallmann is a fantastic extravagance that lives up to the many big names on the credits under the biggest of them all. Thank you, Mr. Faena.

Follow Victoria on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE and on her Facebook fan page.

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

If You Go

Place: Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann

Rating: (Exceptional)

Address: Faena Hotel, 3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach 33140

Contact: 786-655-5610; www.faena.com

Hours: Noon-5 p.m. and 6-11 p.m. daily (later on weekends). Sunday asado.

Prices: Appetizers $14- $23; entrees $23-$48; desserts $14.

FYI: Noise level can get loud inside; full bar; Corkage $50 per first two bottles, then $80; metered street parking or valet parking $15 with validation; Reservations available by phone and at opentable.com. AX, DS, MC, VS.

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