Sra. Martinez Chowdown Report
Fourteen 'hounds (and friends of 'hounds) gathered for a dinner last night at Sra. Martinez in Miami's Design District. It was a nice fun group and I hope everyone enjoyed themselves. We ordered a bunch of things for the table and then folks added on additional items as they saw fit and we got to try quite a bit of the menu. Since I've already given some pretty extensive comments, I'll try to limit myself here to those things I've not already mentioned before, and would love to hear from the rest of the group, some of whom have already visited Sra. M and some of whom may have been first-timers.
- the bar is awesome. A really great drinks list with lots of innovative twists on old traditions. I had a just-about perfect sazerac made w/ Michter's Rye, and made the right way, with the absinthe swirled around the glass before the rye & bitters (shaken w/ ice) are poured in, and served neat. I felt momentarily like I was in New Orleans. What a shame they've only got 6 seats, as the space gets really backed up (we were eating at the upstairs table) as people crowd the bar area.
- croquetas - some folks aren't fans of these, I thought they were pretty good, very light in texture and full of flavor from the wild mushrooms and manchego and not greasy at all. I thought the sweet dipping sauce was superfluous, and the price a bit high for the four pinky-sized croquetas.
- pan con tomate - this is a ubiquitous Spanish dish which we saw breakfast, lunch and dinner when we traveled there. Slightly stale bread, rubbed with a garlic clove, rubbed with tomato pulp (the traditional way to do it is to halve a tomato and rub the cut side on the bread, but here - and in many Spanish places - they grate the tomatoes and then brush the tomato pulp onto the bread), a spritz of good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Simple but it makes me happy. I thought the bread perhaps should have been firmer and crustier, though I sort of enjoyed the mushy merger of bread and tomato.
- crispy eggplant - a surprisingly good simple dish, skinny eggplant are cut into thin rounds, fried, and drizzled with honey. Crispy, salty, sweet - I liked these a lot. The eggplant-honey combo sounds exotic but I think this is actually a variation on a traditional Spanish tapa.
- clams - I think the menu says these are just steamed w/ garlic chile tomato and sherry, If it's really that simple there may be some alchemy involved, as these were just bursting with flavor. Each order was a nice generous bowl too.
- bacon-wrapped dates - the official snack of the Design District! Again playing on that salty-sweet thing, the prominent flavors were the pork and the sweet date, with the blue cheese much more in the background.
- bravas - I bring these up again because they were much improved from our initial visit. Now described as an "untraditional" patatas bravas with Peruvian dipping sauces, it was a more generous portion and the dipping sauces - an aji amarillo sauce and a spicy tomato sauce - are now loaded with some genuine punch. I couldn't decide which sauce I liked more. Small tweaks, and a much more enjoyable dish.
- poached egg - a new spin on an egg dish, here the egg is simply poached (not poached and then fried as in prior iteration), and served with a hash of coins of fingerling potato and chorizo. It's hard to go wrong with chorizo eggs and potatoes and this dish doesn't. And what's even better, you can ask for it just like Charles Grodin's character from Midnight Run.
- marrow bones - a great ingredient but a flawed execution. Each order comes with 4 bones, with the shank split lengthwise in half and then cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths so you get "open" pieces of the bone w/ exposed marrow. Unfortunately there's a lot of variation from one piece to the next, so that one may be loaded with marrow and another have almost none. And, they sometimes have little shards of bone sticking into the marrow which can break off. Just a tough ingredient to work with and maintain quality control. I'm also not convinced on the grape tomato accompaniment, as I couldn't quite figure out what to do with the tomatoes (I shmear the marrow on bread and spinkle w/ parlsey, but adding the tomatoes was a delicate balancing act).
- jamon iberico - an off-the-menu special @ $18/oz. I think I've made clear my feelings on jamon iberico. Yes it's expensive. It's also fantastic stuff. (Momentarily drifting off into porky reverie...).
- torrejas - I didn't know of this dish until recently, when I first tried it at Por Fin. Basically french toast for dessert, super sweet and dense. This tasted like it was made with a panettone-type bread, or maybe there were some dried fruits in the sauce, but since one of my favorite treats is panettone french toast, this resonated with me.
- churros - funnel cake with a spicy chocolate dipping sauce. I didn't love this, there was some pronounced flavor in the chocolate (was it some sort of liquor?) that didn't hit the right note for me.
We were drinking the Ameztoi Txakolina (2007), a funky Basque white with a tart, almost effervescent note it, which I really enjoy with tapas, and the great-value Borsao Campo de Borja (2007) grenache/tempranillo blend, which is a real treasure at $20 on the wine list.
I thought all of the staff did a great job of welcoming and taking care of our group, and despite having a large group to tend to, and lots of individual ordering, they pretty much managed to always have some food on the table for folks to pick at.
So what did the fellow 'hounds think?
Thanks for the write-up Frod! After a few glasses of the Borsao I'd forgotten much of what we'd started with. This definitely jogs my memory.
Agree about the bar. Great, but small, space. When the place was Domo Japones the area where we had dinner was bar seating. Don't know if they necessarily want to do that, but they could fix up the small balcony outside to make it a little more comfortable (right now it's a mishmash of chairs). Either that or devote some outdoor seating to bar service for those waiting for a table. As for the drinks, again, I hate anything besides a dry gin Martini, but the Bloody Mary with tomato water and horseradish vodka is absurdly good.
Croquetas - still not a big fan. If I hadn't read what they were filled with I'd never be able to guess (btw, the chorizo and goat cheese croquettes at River Oyster Bar are very very good).
Pan con tomate - lived off it as a student in Spain and didn't think this version was any better than I'd made myself. Much better with a thin slice of jamon on top.
Eggplant - agree it's good and simple. Not much else.
Clams - one of my favorites of the night. Agree they had tons of flavor. Needed more bread to soak up the sauce.
Bacon wrapped dates - i wanted an order for myself. Very addicting and great with the Borsao.
Bravas - these were like potato pillows. Extremely light and fluffy potato chunks with two addicting sauces. One of the best versions of the dish I've had, if not the best.
poached egg - missed it! Eggs, potatoes and chorizo are one of my favorite combinations. Guess I'll have to make a return trip for this one!
marrow bones - agree that their hit and miss. It's tough to share this with more than 2 people. I ate the salad separately (and it was good) and had the marrow with bread. Two dishes in one.
oxtail - great easy presentation of shredded oxtail on bread. Was good and tasty.
quail pinchos - can only share among 2. One of my favorites as well, even though what I thought was a deboned breast section wasn't and I spent some time picking out bones. My bad. Loved the harissa aspect of it.
pork belly - kinda getting sick of it on every menu but liked this presentation. Crispy skin and moist meat and fat.
As for desserts, whatever the ice cream was that came with the torrejas was ridiculously good (think it was some sort of salted caramel). Didn't try the torrejas themselves as they looked heavy. Liked the churros (funny, since I grew up in L.A. with doughy, Mexican-style churros and I never liked them until I had the Spanish style). I'm a big fan of them but they just needed to have been cut up into individual churros vs. funnel cake style (just use scissors like in Spain!). I believe the chocolate had some sort of chili powder which may have been what you didn't like. I enjoyed it though and would've liked more!
Staff was great considering what they had to deal with in 14 picky food and wine loving individuals with different tastes. Bartenders deserve special mention for the passion they showed towards their ingredients and recipes. Definitely make it a point to have a cocktail before dinner.
Thanks BM and Frod for getting the ball rolling. It was good seeing everyone again.
Jamon iberico - it is what it is, and it's damn good. Great way to end before dessert.
I hope folks liked the wines and I wasn't being presumptuous by ordering, there's just so long I can sit around the table without some wine being poured before I get antsy.
Agree the churros needed to be snipped. I usually like chocolate with chile (MGF&D had a great spiced chocolate ice cream recently, and I've had churros & spiced chocolate @ Michy's before too which was great, link below) but the spice was just jumping out at me instead of being integrated into the flavor of the chocolate. I've liked this when the spice catches you at the back end instead of up front.
I could have just stuck with the jamon iberico for dessert.
I'd have mixed feelings on them losing the upstairs tables for more bar space, as there's noplace else in the restaurant that can handle a group - and it really is a fun place to have a dinner.
Im a big fan of the bar and the bartender, even though I always forget his name. Regardless, the guy knows how to talk spirits and makes a mean cocktail. The bar size is a buzzkill but only if youre on the outside lookin in haha. Not sure what can be done about it really. That Michter's is good though, huh? Im a big bourbon fan and hadnt heard of it but liked it when I gave it a try. Bartender also talked me into the rye which I actually enjoyed as well and Im not a rye fan.
Croquetas - Im still not impressed. I agree w/ L2M in that without the menu i wouldnt know the ingredients. Ok, theyre light and they dont taste bad but for $12 not worth it. I gotta try the ROB ones now, thanks L2M.
Pan con tomate - I was glad Frod was there to tell me it was supposed to be cold. This was another miss for me. Bread with crust made slightly soggy by tomatoes. Yeah.
Eggplant - surprised me as a really good snacky type dish.
Clams - this is my favorite item on the whole menu, hands down. Ive got them every time Ive visited and they continue to kick ass and take names. Ive said it before, as have many others, that they need to get some good bread to come with this dish so you can get to soppin up the sauce at the end.
Bacon wrapped dates - these were pretty good. I think the bacon wrapped figs at MGFD dominate these though.
Bravas - these were another surprise for me. I really liked how light and crispy they were. The sauces were both very good too. Plus its a nice portion to share and munch on for a bit during conversation.
poached egg - Frod and Mrs. Frod got this one and I kinda wish I had too after I saw it come out and especially after I saw two lonely bits of chorizo lying on the plate.
marrow bones - gotta admit Im kinda disappointed here. I didnt like the way they split them. Keep em whole and let me do the work diggin out the marrow. The little pieces of bone that kept getting in my mouth were kind of a buzzkill too.
oxtail - I had a little bite of this and thought it was very good.
quail pinchos - very tasty, nice dish.
pork belly - havent had it yet but its on the radar for my return.
Jamon iberico - yes, its damn good and a great ending to the meal. This was my real dessert and I could certainly eat a pound of it. Melts in your mouth.
It was nice seeing everyone from the previous get-together again and I hope everyone had a good time.
First things first: FROD YOU ARE THE MAN. The suggestion for a get-together was made and you took the ball and ran with it. Right down to the printed "first round", succinctly organized item list. You, for real, rock. These things wouldn't happen without your organization and pull-togetherness. So, one of my most favorite things about the event: Frod. :)
Also, we have a loverly time as usual. Thanks to everyone for the awessome company.
So... me and Q's take (thanks to Frod's elephant memory refresher):
The bar: as we ALL know, Q and I like the bar. We made friends with the bartender and tasted his lavender honey. Q is a standard scotch man, but I am a fu-fu girl. Started with the mojito and moved on to the gin-elderflower-cucumber-and lime thing that was magical. If anyone likes mojitos, the cucumber thing is better.
I would like to put in an ADA/disabled-person disclaimer. Q and I keep track of the disability -friendly places and we were very interested in seeing whether or not this place would have accommodations. There is no elevator in the rear, only the staircase up the front- that you have to climb, in order to get to the source of the good alcohol. There is a lovely full-man lift at the bottom of the stairs, that is supposed to work. We arrived and asked about disability accommodations and, after much panicked whispering, were told about the lift. We thought we would take a ride and said so... which prompted much, much more panicked whisperings. We were eventually told that A) no one knew how to operate the lift and B) there were strong suspicions that the lift did not even work, as someone vaguely recalled it did not work for the previous restaurant. All this, and not a SOUL walked within 10 feet of the lift to manipulate or examine it- maybe they knew it was unplugged. We were also told that, since the opening, we were the first people who wanted to ride the lift. We were also assured that they really wanted us to eat there... blah, blah, blah. So... a lil' food for thought for disabled folks- make sure you are settled downstairs and, unless they do a lil' updating, you can only dream of the upstairs bar and dining room action- regardless of how beautiful and shiny the lift looks.
Now the food:
The croquetas: as a gringa, I love these things. I didn't meet a croqueta until I was 20's-ish. Someone could put spam and kraft cheese in the middle and I would be impressed. So, I am biased and will make no comment. :)
I thought the sauce that went with the artichokes was good... (that was an artichoke, right? LOL) It was kinda zippy and it brought life to my drooping vegetable. You know... the long skinny one, with the branching head...
Clams- high, low, sideways... those clams were a hit. Generous portion, though they might consider a 5-gallon bucket for those feeling Super Clammy. I think it would sell. Deelish.
The dates... I am agreeing with BlindMind... I missed the blue cheese. Also, maybe this is just a date thing, but it was sooooo heavy and sweet. I don't know that you can "lighten" dates (LOL), so I dunno if big, fat, bacon-y dates are my thing.
The bravas made me very happy. We, the Irish, feel strongly about good bravas. The mustard and ketchup was va-va-voom exciting! Suprisingly, this was a favorite.
I heard the urchin was bland... not that I was jumpin' on the urchin. I think LAX2MIA mentioned previously bland urchin- so at least we have consistency.
The sweetbreads were nice... not astounding, but the texture was nice and the flavor was there...
Ditto for the foie gras... our neighbor suggested that the foie felt undercooked, but I thought it was melt-in-the mouth. Maybe I was crazy, but I didn't feel that the accompanying flavors showcased the foie... Supporting flavor roles can make the difference between a B-List foie and a Supuh-stah foie...
The jamon... ahhhhh, ham butter. Like Danielle said... you don't even need cheese. Or bread... or a fork... If I was feeling much more patient (which was related to those ever-flowing cucumber-elderflower drinks), I would have sucked a piece of that jamon like a werther's candy, just to see if it would eventually just melt. Kinda like the "how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?" Freakin' deelish.
The whole thing was a hit... though it was VERY different from the first chowdown. Q and I have decided that we need to move around more- we sat in the exact same positions during the last chowhound- and saw many of the same people. Of course, there are some who would say that beggars can't be choosers, if you linger at the bar. :) It seems I always walk away wishing I had more time, or was in closer proximity, to chat with another person... :) :) :)
Not to hijack the thread, but I finally made it over there on Friday and enjoyed the experience so much, we tried to change reservations for a family event on Saturday but were told a group of insane eaters were packing the Sra. Martinez then and needed special attention. I will have to make it to one of these get togethers at some point.
A couple of quick comments about the restaurant: I ABSOLUTELY agree about the bar. excellent, excellent bar. However, while small, the feel of it makes me feel like I'm not in Miami. I'm glad to see mixology taking off in Miami..
Wine list is nice. I was very happy to see that while this is a pricey tapas place, they still have $20 and $30 bottles. Very few restaurants have decent bottles of anything under $50.
Service is some of the best I've had. the server was educated, nice and paced the meal perfectly.
Food was very good. However, desserts were not. We did have the churros as well and found them ok, the chocolate was a miss. We also had the greek yogurt ice cream. This wasn't sweet enough (caveat: I'm Cuban-American) and was topped with what tasted to me like the best pesto I've had in Miami. It would have made for an interesting app.