There is something about the soul of Miami that makes me feel so very much at home. Wherever my eyes land, I see the legacy of a new Cuba manifest itself in the most unpretentious way. Cuba is many wonderful things. She is not “refined”; she is full of passion. She is not “dainty”, and yet her best sides are exotically elegant. She is not theatric, but is matter-of-fact practical. Her cuisine is akin to her character. It is bold, hearty, and unforgettable. A trip to Miami reminded me of all of this but a restaurant called Sergio’s played its role in taking me there.
You can ask Jesse; even he will tell you that Sergio’s has rooted its legacy in the many neighborhoods of Miami… since his Vice City days even. Over time, Sergio’s has grown into a number of locations. The location I visited is located off the northeast outskirts of the city’s scenic Coral Gables. As I approached the restaurant, I realized that I had been here before. I remember that my family and I use to frequent this place on our summer visits to South Florida. There is an exterior courtyard that seats about fifty and a bigger dining room that accommodates more than that.
Some things have changed; the decor had been revamped. It is now more vibrant, eclectic, rustic, amidst a sea of walls painted in a mango-yellow. It seems also that the menu has taken a trendier approach to Cuban cuisine. Sergio’s now prides itself in offering a selection of locally sourced meats, seafood, and produce. I can’t say that I saw too much credit given to said sources on their menu; I usually appreciate these sorts of details. And since Sergio’s has made efforts to brand itself in a green-trend, I feel obliged to add that it’s doing it’s part in reducing its carbon footprint via its efforts in waste management and special lighting. I can dig that.
On to the food. I seized the opportunity to celebrate some staples. A croquette sampler, arañitas (plantain fritters), picadillo, and a ripe avocado salad. A simple assortment of small plates that I shared with two lovely women… both named Jessica.
Arañitas. These are one of the many fritter appetizers found on the Cuban table. They are green plantains sliced lengthwise and crisped in the frying pan. Pair that with some mojo (a garlic type dipping sauce) and you have a fiesta in your mouth. Unfortunately, these fritters were clumped together; and so some were chewy and some were crispy. This chewier texture isn’t like what you should expect. It should be pleasently crispy all the way to the end.
The croquettes – also known as “My precious” – are another fritter traditionally made with three key components: a pate type filling, a bechamel coating, and bread crumbs. We got chicken, ham, and salted cod croquettes. You have to order the cod croquettes! Epically traditional and difficult to screw up. I wasn’t a huge fan of the chicken though; I’d skip those next time. Only because they just didn’t stand up to the bold flavors of the “jamon” (ham) and “bacalao” (cod).
The avocado salad. This reminded me of Alice Water’s Chez Panisse… only because of its simplicity. Avocados in this town are a dime a dozen… or three for a dollar! And they are ripe people! This plate was drizzled with a fruity olive oil, a few slices of red onion, and a dash of salt and pepper. Simple is key.
The Picadillo – a typical dish of ground beef seasoned with olives and a garlic blend of spices called “adobo.” This is probably the most “layered” dish in terms of flavors and components. And its probably the most fun to cook and add layers and other textures to. Growing up, my grandmother would add raisins, olives, and potatoes to this. It’s like a Caribbean corned beef, but better. Grandma’s is better, but this was great. It layered a nice velvety richness with the incorporation of a fried egg all over a bed of white rice. The real twist in this dish was the fact that it was all plated over a grilled flat bread. It was very good.
I guess my angle to dinner that night was another informal sampling. A great approach to a food that’s meant to be… approachable, if you will. Not everything was stellar, the service was a bit underwhelming, but it was conducive to a Cuban rhythm that I am very much familiar with. I encourage you to check it out. As a side note, if you’re afraid of salt, say so from the get go.
“Family, Hospitality, and Authentic Cuban Food”
3252 SW 22nd St Miami, FL 33145
Written by Gustavo Arias
For more information about Sergio’s, click here.
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