As the billion-dollar, nine-acre mixed-use development known as Brickell City Centre hurtles toward completion in a downtown Miami that’s never turning back, locals look on with a mixture of shock and awe. Is the neighborhood feel of the blocks west of Brickell Avenue gone for good? Garzon, a 4-month-old Uruguayan-inspired restaurant near the big footprint of the complex, argues that it’s not.
It’s a cozy oasis in the hubbub of chain restaurants, malls, glass-and-steel towers and traffic that is defining Brickell nowadays. The brainchild of Uruguayan chef-owner Gabriela Medici, it’s a little bit of coastal Uruguay in the big city.
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Sit outside (30 seats) or in the 75-seat dining room. Part of a complex with the local nightclub Baru and the Colombian nightclub Tu Candela, the room looks like an eclectic butler’s pantry. Blond-wood shelves supported by iron posts display a wide variety of books, clocks, vases, cookware, farm implements and other items collected by Medici to make the place look like a country house in Uruguay. Seating options include high-top chairs with soft booths, bright green wooden benches and more. It is at once comfortable and whimsical.
The cuisine of Medici and executive chef Attilio Padra is billed as rustic farm to table cuisine inspired by the small Uruguayan village of Garzon. The menu has been evolving since the restaurant’s start, with more and more emphasis on crudos, grilled items and oysters to go along with the pastas that pay respect to the number of Italian immigrants in Uruguay and neighboring Argentina.
Bread to start is served not with butter but with a delicious eggplant puree, a nice surprise that you’ll ask for more of.
Empanadas Salteñas are classic Uruguayan-style empanadas, made with hand-cut beef tenderloin, potatoes and chives, lightly fried, two to an order, meaty and hot. Another typical empanada is made with queso blanco and onion, milder in flavor, also good.
Italian Burrata matches the soft, creamy, salty mozzarella with sautéed green peas, heirloom tomatoes and asparagus tips, a good starter to share. Eat it with grilled crostini.
Oysters are available raw, but you can get those anywhere. Try ostiones al grill, a half-dozen fat beauties grilled in the shell and doused with a mild mignonette at the end. Execution on our order was uneven, with three of the six smoky and hot and three tepid and less satisfying. But it’s something we’d try again.
Raw things not to miss include aguachiles de camaron — a salty, puckery delight made with shrimp, jalapeño, red onion, avocado and citrus water — and tuna avocet tartare, lush red diced tuna matched with mango, caviar, lime and soy and an avocado puree.
Garzon goes hard-core Italian pasta with house-made malfatti, soft and lush spinach and ricotta dumplings served with a rich but tomato-tangy pink cream sauce. There’s also a straight-ahead four cheese ravioli with marinara, basil and garlic, a classic expertly done.
El Chivito is a typical Uruguayan street-food sandwich that is something to behold. It’s a brioche bun piled to overflow with thinly sliced tenderloin, ham, cheese, bacon, lettuce, hard-cooked egg, peppers, green olives and mayo, with a cascade of crisp, hot homemade fries. The tender meat manages to say something underneath the grand slam breakfast worth of add-ons. An excellent sandwich that is enough for two.
To take a tour of Uruguayan (and Argentine) cuisine, you can try the parrilladita, a platter featuring deeply flavored flap steak, blood sausage, chorizo, a beef empanada and a cheese-onion one, plus 80 (we counted) blue-cheese-specked truffle fries, which is probably too many. But here you get a taste of the menu’s array of sausages and steaks.
Half-boneless grilled chicken, the airline cut with drumette attached, is juicy and sparked up with chimichurri. Roasted potatoes and garnishes of grilled lemon and watercress round out the plate.
An ample grilled filet of branzino had a sweet, clean flavor and a tangy artichoke and white wine sauce with pieces of artichoke and asparagus, making this the menu’s most healthful choice.
The classic Latin American confection, dulce de leche (homemade), makes its way into two of the four desserts, including a rich soufflé with chocolate and peanut butter. Lemon pie will remind you of Key lime, in a good way: Uruguay was nice, back to South Florida.
Follow Kendall on Twitter @khamersly