There is a new restaurant in the beautiful Merrick Park shopping center in Miami’s upscale Coral Gables suburb. I was recently invited to the grand opening of this new Mexican themed eatery. Those of you who know me also know that I have a constant complaint that I have yet to find really good Mexican food in Miami. That complaint still stands. Typical for Miami, restauranteurs take something simple and try to make it complicated, thinking that complicated is a synonym for sophisticated. Oh, I have had Haute Mexican Cuisine – as part of a diplomatic delegation in the Hotel Intercontinental in Mexico City. It really worked. What happens north of the border goes more like this: Restauranteurs try to scam people by serving simple food in a snooty way and think they can charge exorbitantly for it. If you want to serve something innovative and iconoclastic from the Mexican vernacular, go for it. But chicken tacos, chips and salsa are not haute cuisine.
So I arrive about 5:30. Cinco was very busy due to their grand opening celebration. I assume they had a soft opening to work their kinks out so the fact that you have a grand opening means you should be prepared to handle it. I headed to the bar where they were supposedly serving free margaritas. After waiting over 10 minutes (imagine you are in a busy nightclub and you’re not a VIP) a pleasant but clearly overwhelmed bartender asked me for a “ticket.” Nobody said anything about a ticket. He instructed me to go back outside where I had to fill out a form signing up for their email list, at which point they gave me a ticket. Now I am no lush but the invitation I received, and I have it in front of me as I write this, says “Complimentary Margaritas.” It does not say “Enjoy one margarita if you sign up for our e-mail list.” In fact, the email says specifically “Enjoy Complimentary Maragritas” (sic). Anyway, fine. Ticket in hand, I returned to the bar that was stacked about 3 deep with people patiently waiting for their “maragritas.” To his credit, the same overwhelmed bartender recognized me, asked me if I wanted salt or not, and served me my pre-mixed margarita from a pitcher in a water glass. I always like quantity, but this was lime Kool-aid. Not the bartender’s fault I don’t think, this stuff probably came from some kind of tank in the back. It was not too sweet, which is a plus with me. Margaritas generally give me a headache not from the alcohol, but from sugar shock. Still there was no detectable alcohol in this. It tasted like the green stuff that you buy by the gallon in the grocery store for the cub scout meeting.
I wanted to eat. They had a full patio, which said alot because they have a large attractive patio. I should say that generally Cinco is beautifully decorated with the glaring exception of a caricature mural of Emiliano Zapata painted by someone who is either an awful artist or really really hates (Mexican historical figure) Emiliano Zapata. Seeing that I was not going to be greeted in a traditional way, I went up to a manager type near the hostess station and asked about the appetizers which he graciously but quickly ran through. Every appetizer was $5 during happy hour except for the ceviche. I asked for a table – which one should not have to do in a restaurant. “Well you can just order at the bar.” I turned around and looked at the bar stacked 3 deep. There were absolutely no seats at the bar, so perhaps he expected me to stand around, wait for my food, then take the plate and eat while standing around. By this point it was clear that these people don’t know what they are doing.
I grabbed a menu (I was not offered one). I went out to the patio and there were no tables but at least I found a seat. This was odd. There were some seats set out with no accompanying tables. Now why you would have random seats at a restaurant with no accompanying tables is not necessarily a bad thing but it is odd. Perhaps I hoped, someone would come by and serve me at my seat? Maybe with a TV tray from the 1960’s and 1970’s? Well I sat there, overhearing a senior manager type (he had on a more expensive shirt and was older so even if he was not a senior manager, at least he was a senior) chew out a junior manager type for someone sitting a long time (like me) without being served. The junior manager type just went and chewed out the hostess and a server (I saw and heard it all). So while I was sitting there hungry, I read the menu. To be clear I am a gringo from Ohio, I can be excused for bad Spanish. Miami is 65% Latino. If you run a Mexican restaurant in Miami, make sure the Spanish on your menu is at least Spanish.
Since I didn’t get to actually TRY any food, due to their lack of interest in serving any, let’s play editor, going down column by column. Just like you amuse yourself on a long boring trip, This is how I amused myself during my long boring fruitless wait for service:
- Ceviche Al Tun = Al Tun? No, Tuna in Spanish (even in Mexico) is Atún
- Empanadas Di Jaiba = what is this, an Italian trattoria? “Di” does not exist as a word in Spanish. That is an Italian word.
- Flautas Di Pato = “Di” #FAIL
- Diarbol BBQ = I suppose they mean De Arból, which is a delicious fiery pepper from Mexico that grows on especially large bushes
- Tortas = Ok, in Mexico that means sandwich and they have sandwiches listed. I can even understand having a Cuban sandwich as they do, after all this is Miami. But Instead of 2 hamburgers why not include the famous and delectable Mexican sandwich that is a specialty in the Mexican state of Michoacán: Torta Ahogada?
- Under “Sliders” they have: “Braised Aciote Pork” = No, the word is Achiote, or if you are going to describe it in English, “Annato.”
- Cochanitas = WTF? Really? Was this written by a drunken tourist from DuBuque Iowa (no offense to Hawkeyes) on vacation in Cozumel? The word is “Cochinita” from the Spanish word “Cochino” meaning “Pork.”
- PLATILLOS PRINCIPALES = Ok, so a “plato principal” means “main plate” or entrée. Is this a warning? Will your entree ($12-$27) be served on a little saucer? Platillo means ” little plate” or “saucer.” I understand “jumbo shrimp.” But this, I don’t get.