Sunday, January 25, 2009

Maya - A Taste of South Beach

Maya Tapas and Grill - 809 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach FL 33139

One of my favorite places in Miami's South Beach is Lincoln Road. Famous for being a large pedestrian mall, it's also nicknamed the 5th Avenue or the Rodeo Drive of Miami. And it's also a street where you can find some of South Beach's most famous restaurants. What makes Lincoln Road a lot of fun is that each restaurant features outdoor seating, allowing you to people watch to your heart's content.

Our restaurant choice wasn't an easy one, as there are countless ones to choose from and enthusiastic hosts/hostesses trying to lure you in. We finally decided on a tapas-style place called Maya.

Maya, like its competitors, boasts comfortable outdoor seating, under large umbrellas that shield you from the hot sun. Luckily when we went, the sun was setting and it cooled off but it was still nice to sit under our little shaded haven. We managed to get first row seating in front of the wide sidewalk and watch everyone pass by. This was fun and we got to comment on all of the crazy outfits that people wore--we enjoyed playing the fashion police.

What drew us in were the tapas. Dan and I love this style of food and when we looked at the menu, we saw that they had a lot of interesting seafood options to choose from. We got tapas to start but then decided on traditional entrees. The following were our choices:

Jumbo Lump Crab Croquette - Whenever I hear the word "croquette," I'm sold--after all, what's not to love about something in a crispy crust? Maya's version of the crab croquette was delicious. The crab meat was fresh and had a nice creamy consistency from the spicy remoulade. It was served on a bed of greens and a raw red onion, which is one of my favorite vegetables. I split the portion with Dan, who loved it. Given that this was a tapas dish, we knew that it'd be small but we wished that we could've tasted at least one more crab croquette.

Gazpacho - Dan ordered this for his starter and we were both surprised at how large it was. It came in a medium-sized, deep bowl filled to the top. The whole thing looked like tomato sauce to me but Dan seemed to like it. I tasted it but wasn't impressed--the veggies on top were good but the broth itself was too tomato-ey and had a funky aftertaste. Maybe I just didn't like the seasoning.

Cheese Risotto - This was my main course and I loved it. Surprise took over me yet again when I saw the gargantuan portion--a very large (and deep) bowl brimming with cheesy rice and crispy shallots. The best part about it was the consistency of the rice--it was cooked al-dente and wasn't mushy at all. The cheeses that formed the creamy sauce included manchego and parmesan. They were both lovely and not too overpowering. I tried hard to work down half of this portion but it was simply too much. Dan helped but still, more than a quarter of my dish was left in the bowl. If getting this next time, I'd recommend splitting it with 2 or 3 people.

Pan Roasted Black Grouper - Dan chose this as his entree and was very impressed. I got to taste it too and was right there with him--I loved it and was kind of jealous that I didn't get it myself. The fish was tender and very light. It flaked off nicely and was therefore easy to eat. The veggie medley of sweet corn, tomatoes and onions was delightful--a bit creamy and a perfect complement to the fish. There was also green onion hash on the bottom that tasted just like plain mashed potatoes--it was underwhelming. Overall though, the grouper was a top notch dish.

Service and Cost:
Our waiter who was French was very charming. There was a slightly disingenuine quality to him, as I think is the case with a lot of South Beach waiters--they tend to be flaky. However, he did his job well and was especially attentive. He apologized for not checking on us for 10 minutes--it was kind of sweet.

Cost-wise, South Beach dining is never cheap. Maya was on the moderate side with appetizers ranging mostly between $10-$13 and entrees between $16.95 - $28.95. They offer a $59.95 3-course dinner for two special, which is sort of reasonable.

2 Mmmms

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