My husband Steve and I have been very fortunate to have had many delicious meals in our travels around the United States. But only a handful of them could be considered truly great dining experiences; so memorable that we could never, ever forget them. And now the meal we had in Brickell at Cantina La Veinte rounds out the handful!
To me, a great dining experience involves many things. Great food is obviously most important, but so is service and ambiance. La Veinte is one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever been in. The ceiling soars to great heights and is filled to the top with magnificent objects of art from the chef’s native Mexico. The floors are reminiscent of the ones of the early 1900’s. In fact the small white and black tiles reminded me of the floors in my grandparents’ home that they built in the 1920’s. Huge windows look out onto the waterway of this 280 seat restaurant and if you go downstairs to the lower level it is actually open air with that same amazing view. I understand that on weekends there is a mariachi band downstairs which we missed because we went on a Tuesday evening.
So now let’s get to the other two aspects of a great dining experience. Before I describe our unbelievably delicious meal I want to let you know that the service was impeccable. Each dish was described to us in detail by our knowledgeable waitstaff. And if you left your seat they immediately refolded your napkin. The staff was warm and friendly and totally added to the enjoyment of the evening.
Chef Santiago Gómez is young, thirty something, but very accomplished. He and his wife Fernanda hosted a group of us for a Media Dinner that was a culinary Mexican journey designed to take us on a tasty trip to taste Chef Gómez’s own interpretation of classic Mexican cuisine. Along with the meal we tasted a flight of tequilas presented to us by the charming and vivacious Don Julio representative Vanessa Leon. This was truly fine dining at its best!
Upon being seated we were served Don Julio margaritas and Guacamole with tortilla chips which made us all feel at ease and started the conversation flowing. Next we were presented with a Soft Shell Crab Taco which represented Campeche. This soft flour tortilla with jalapeno sauce contained the crispiest fried soft shell crab I have ever tasted. Following that we were taken to Mexico City with Sweet Corn with Smoked Mayo, Queso Fresco and Epazote which was sweet and slightly smoky and had a sauce so delicious that no one could resist drinking it.
To continue our journey through Mexico we made a stop at Oaxaca for Buñelo and Duck Confit with Mole Negro. Chef talked to us lovingly about the mole with its 16 ingredients including chiles that they burn to a char giving this long cooked sauce (over 10 hours) its signature smoky, slightly bitter and deep chocolate flavor. With this course we sipped the Reposata tequila which complimented the smokiness of the dish beautifully with its cinnamon and clove nuances from being aged in Bourbon barrels. From Oaxaca we travelled to Mérida, Yucatán with the Panucho De Cochinita, shredded mojo pork, with masa, black beans and pickled red onion. From there we headed to Veracruz for Arroz a la Tumbada. This masterpiece was a seafood broth risotto topped with the most perfectly cooked sea scallop and was anointed with truffle oil. The scallop had a crisp sear top and bottom and was sweet and creamy in between. It was at that point that my husband turned to me and said that he thought each dish was his favorite until the next one came!
Our next course took us to back to Oaxaca for Grilled Filet with Chicatana (ants!) Butter, Turnip Purée and Quelite Salad. This dish was very flavorful and textually pleasing as well. I have to admit I have said I would never eat bugs but I guess that is why they say “you should never say never”. I did eat them and lived to tell about it. Guadalajara, Jalisco brought us Braised Short Rib with Three Chile and Agave Demi-glace over Potato Guajuillo Purée. The short rib was so tender it melted in your mouth and the sweetness of the agave tempered the chiles just enough to leave just a little after burn. But wait, there is still more, counting the guacamole there were ten courses in all! We went on to Acapulco for Branzino with Talla Sauce on a bed of Plantain Purée. This was the last of our savory courses but the momentum did not let up. The branzino was topped with a spicy chile sauce but the sweet plantains eased the burn of the chiles.
Last, but most definitely not least, our dessert plate took us on a journey to Nayarit with a Mango Sphere with Lime and Cilantro to refresh our palates, then to Celaya for delightfully crisp Churros with Cajeta and lastly on to Chiapas for Chocolate Ganache and Crispy Quinoa with Hibiscus Foam. Dessert was paired with the Don Julio 1942 and was the perfect sip with this lovely trio of desserts.
It is obvious that I loved this meal. It was so good that my husband and I look forward to driving back to Miami in the very near future for more of Chef Santiago Gómez’s delicious food. This is not your typical Mexican restaurant. This is very high end gourmet fare at its very best.
Cantina La Veinte
495 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33131
Disclaimer: This meal was compliments of Cantina La Veinte, but the opinions expressed are 100% my own.