Wednesday, May 13, 2009

La Cofradia Ceviche Bar - Coral Gables

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

A few weeks ago I gave a preview of the new menu at La Cofradia Ceviche Bar, the reincarnation of a former upscale Peruvian restaurant which closed down a couple months ago. I paid a lunch visit last week on the first day of their reopening to see what was new.

The layout of the space has been reconfigured some, with a few tall tables and barstools in the entranceway along with a new (?) bar. White tablecloths are gone in favor of bare wood tables, though the place still retains many of the upscale trappings from its original incarnation and has a slick (but not uncomfortable) modern look to it. It does feel a little more welcoming and it seems they're trying to make the new bar area in front more of a focal point.

The menu is, as noted earlier, in many ways just a simplified version of its predecessor. There are a few options for ceviches and tiraditos, about a half dozen other appetizer options, about 10 entree choices (some of which, like the sauteed shrimp with tacu tacu, I recall from the original menu), mostly priced in the $15-20 range at lunch and $17-25 for dinner (dinner also adds several saltados or stir fries for $17-22), and daily lunch specials for around $14-15.

Ceviches are offered in four styles: (1) a mix of fish, shrimp and octopus marinated in the traditional citrusy "leche de tigre"; (2) white fish marinated and supplemented with aji amarillo chile; (3) mixed seafood enhanced with red rocoto chile; and (4) tuna done in an Asian style with soy, ginger and sesame oil. You can also get tiradito (thinly sliced fish instead of diced) done in any of the same styles. We got a sampler of all four (for $15; individual ceviches range between $11-$14) and the serving size of each was a bit dainty (three of us splitting it had to be pretty timid in serving ourselves so as not to hog all of one) though collectively it was a decent portion. My favorite, somewhat surprisingly to me, was the Asian style, which came with a little seaweed salad as an accompaniment. A slab of sweet potato and some choclo, more traditional accompaniments, came with the others.

I also tried a shrimp causa appetizer, a traditional Peruvian dish of a round disk of cold mashed potatoes flavored subtly with aji amarillo, topped with cooked shrimp, cubes of avocado and a drizzle of Russian dressing. I know - sounds odd. And maybe it is, a little bit, but it's cool and refreshing while also substantial and filling. La Cofradia's version was decent but not revelatory.

Some of the entrees on the lunch menu are available in half portions, and a half portion of the arroz negro (for $10) worked out just right after an appetizer. The rice, colored and flavored with squid ink, was fairly generously studded with calamari rings and scallops, but it lacked the real depth of seafood flavor that this dish has when done really well (as it is at Francesco, also in the Gables), and the calamari was just a touch rubbery. I've heard it said calamari should be cooked for 2 minutes or 2 hours, and this seemed to be caught somewhere in between.

Given that we were there for literally the first service since they had reopened, it's really not fair to judge the service at all. Our food was just a bit slow coming out but the restaurant staff was acutely aware of it, and plied us with complimentary pisco sours while we waited. It was thoughtful but unnecessary, as the wait time really was not bad considering, and overall service was quite solicitous.

I am mostly a luncher in the Gables and remain concerned that though the food was good, La Cofradia's prices are still too high to be competitive in the current market. They've taken some steps to simplify the menu and make the venue more welcoming, both of which they've succeeded at. But despite offering one daily lunch special for around $15, most entrees still hover closer to the $20 price point. Add a ceviche or an app and you've quickly got a $30+ lunch.

It would seem the most natural point of comparison would be Francesco, the Peruvian stalwart of the Gables, and indeed it seems La Cofradia's prices would compare favorably to Francesco's online menu. But the comparison that instead occurs to me is La Cofradia's neighbor Por Fin across the street. Por Fin has done an excellent job of catering to the Gables lunch crowd, with a lunch special menu that offers a wide range of apps and entrees for a combined price of $19.50-$23.50. Por Fin, whose food I think has improved since they first opened, merits its own post (it is coming), and I think places like La Cofradia ought to be paying attention to what they're doing right.

La Cofradia Ceviche Bar
160 Andalusia Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33134

La Cofradia on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. On a related note, Cofradia is doing Thursday and Friday happy hours 4-7pm with drinks and tapas for around $5-7 apiece. There were about 4-5 off-the-menu tapas listed on the blackboard including pulpo al olivo, ceviche (with fish and scallops), corvina escabeche and chicken anticuchos, each $5. We tried them all and they were all good, the octopus in particular a standout for me.