A Miami Restaurant Where the Show Rivals the Food


El Tucan

“Do you salsa or merengue?” the emcee at El Tucán, a supper club in Miami, asked the dolled-up crowd one Saturday night, during its inaugural weekend last October. “Me either,” she said, winking. “This band will get you there.”

She was right. Soon, audience members were on their feet, swaying and twirling to the 11-piece Latin band, led by the Grammy winner Marlow Rosado. A few couples gave the professionals some competition, then cozied up in banquettes for tequila cocktails, ceviche and savory churros.

El Tucán, which opened in the bar-heavy Brickell neighborhood, styles itself as a throwback to another era, when you could see a variety show (feathered chorus girls, absurd clowns and show-stopping vocalists) while having an elegant meal. The lighting is sexily dim and the décor is full-blown retro glam: golden palm trees, crystal fixtures and tasseled lamps, and servers in tuxes with silk gardenia lapel pins.

For inspiration, an owner, Mathieu Massa, a Frenchman based in Miami, took his crew and creative team to Havana, twice. With the thawing of diplomatic relations, they hope to book more Cuban acts, like the singer Cucu Diamantes, who performed during Miami Art Basel. But, Mr. Massa noted proudly, “90 percent of our talent are local,” backed by Mr. Rosado’s house band.

The New Zealand-born, French-trained chef, Jean Paul Lourdes, who did culinary research with the big-concept restaurateur Stephen Starr (Buddakan, Morimoto), also looked to local Cubano joints, and the cuisines of Mexico and Peru. Adding his own Asian-cooking background, he turned a roast pork dish into a global “suckling porquetta,” seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns, cooked sous-vide for 36 hours, then deep-fried and served with a choice of moles.

El Tucán’s $85 prix fixe menu changes weekly, but Mr. Lourdes was aware that it plays second billing to the entertainment. “We tried to make the flavor profile intense,” he said, “so that it almost pops in your mouth and surprises you, but not to distract you from the show.”

When I dipped in, with an intergenerational group on El Tucán’s second night in business, the vibe was sultry and luxe, like a Latin version of the Box, the sometimes raunchy New York cabaret. There are early and late seatings, and, for nondiners, an upstairs bar with a view of the stage and a V.I.P. area. We came for dessert — a faithful tres leches cake and an inventive, whimsical Mexican chocolate tasting — but soon, like everyone else, found ourselves dancing.

Correction: March 4, 2016

An earlier version of this article misstated the birthplace of the chef, Jean Paul Lourdes. Mr. Lourdes was born in New Zealand, not France, where he trained.

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