Welcome to a new feature called Inside the Dishes, where Eater Miami takes an in-depth look at the dishes that are defining restaurants around town. First up, Eater Miami’s restaurant of the year for 2018: Amara at Paraiso.
It only seems fitting that one of Miami’s best known chefs and restauranteurs, Michael Schwartz, would open up a quintessential Miami restaurant — and that’s what he did with Amara at Paraiso, his waterfront stunner and Eater Miami’s 2018 restaurant of the year. Self-described as a his love letter to the Magic City, it features everything that would be expected of top-notch restaurant in Miami: hard-to-beat water views, ingredient-driven fare with plenty of South American influences, bright and airy interiors, and a lively bar.
The kitchen is helmed by executive chef Michael Paley, who’s been with the Amara since its inception. Paley has a diverse culinary background, doing stints everywhere from West Palm Beach’s Cafe Boulud to developing a Neapolitan pizzeria outpost in Louisville, Kentucky, prior to partnering up with Schwartz a few years ago. He worked for close to six months with Schwartz and the Genuine Hospitality Group’s director of culinary Bradley Herron to create the menu, even taking trips to South America for inspiration.
“It’s been a great dynamic for me because I spent a lot of years kind of running my own restaurants and doing my own stuff, but there wasn’t anyone to collaborate with when I wanted new ideas,” adds Paley. “So to have Bradley and Michael and their wealth of knowledge to advise and just create new stuff, it’s fun. It’s like three times the brain.”
Here are the dishes that Paley and team believe have defined the restaurant since its inception.
While empanadas aren’t exactly a unique dish in Miami, the way Amara prepares theirs certainly is. In lieu of the traditional pastry crust, Amara uses a yucca-based dough made of just yucca and salt that is mashed and formed into a dough (bonus: it’s also naturally gluten-free). It’s then filled with the vegetarian-friendly mix of mozzarella, corn, leeks, jalapeños, and poblano peppers. For those craving something more traditional, they can opt for the Argentine influenced empanada made with short rib, olives, and raisin, surrounded by a crust made with lard and flour and salt and egg.
Shredded Cabbage Salad
Described by Paley as the “quintessential lunch salad,” the shredded cabbage salad is a popular daytime pick for the Amara diners. Made with a bed of shredded red cabbage that is slightly overdressed with a honey lime vinaigrette to help break down the cabbage. From there it’s topped with garlic chips, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, micro basil, peppers, onions, and Idiazabal, a sheep’s milk cheese that’s akin to manchego but a bit creamier and slightly smokey. Guests then can top their salad with shrimp, grilled chicken, chorizo, avocado, or piece of grilled fish, for some added protein.
As Schwartz is the king of the farm-to-table movement of South Florida, the salad rotates as the seasons do. “This one’s been sticking around, because it’s different enough where it’s not just a mixed lettuce salad or a roasted beet salad, which we do. But the salads rotate seasonally.”
Grilled Local Fish
For a restaurant nestled right on Biscayne Bay, having a well-executed — yet simple — grilled fish was a must, and it serves as the perfect way to show off their jasper and wood-fired grills. The fish on the menu rotates based on what is caught that day, and is served with potatoes and a salsa verde, which has a surprising Italian flavor profile with anchovies, garlic, mint, basil, parsley, and even cornichon pickles, serving as a subtle nod to his Italian cooking background.
Korean bibimbap — but make it Miami was the idea behind the arroz verde bowl. Served in a piping hot stone bowl right from the oven — and mixed together table-side — it’s filled with a bed of jasmine rice tossed with a cilantro puree then topped with a variety of items like pickles, seeds, marinated kale, cucumber, and a fried egg, creating an interesting combo of crisp, tangy, and savory. A dollop of house-made romanesco, filled with roasted peppers, chilies, bread, almonds, and hazelnuts, adds an extra kick and creamy avocado balance everything out.
This classic Brazilian stew has been “chef-d up” at Amara. It’s not for light eaters (or vegetarians) but it is worth the calories. The beans are braised with pork, pigs feet, pig ears, bacon and chorizo for more than five hours; then topped with a grilled short rib, a piece of grilled pork belly, and one of the house-made red chorizo sausages. To cut through some of the richness marinated kale is added on top alongside rice as a traditional starch. “We spent a lot of time on the technique and execution, but left it very rustic,” notes Paley.
A show stopping piece made with rows and rows of fresh seafood, this is the item to get with a large group. Filled with seafood tower favorites like a dozen oysters, six chilled shrimp, and six snowcrab claws, it also boasts plenty of Latin flavors as well. Its snapper ceviche is tossed with sweet potato, passionfruit, cilantro, and leche de tigre; while the grouper ceviche is made with avocado, coconut milk, toasted pistachio, and cilantro. (For those not wanting to order as much, the platters come in one and two rows as well.)