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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Catharsis Restaurant and Lounge sets the bar for quality Latin cuisine on Calle Ocho

     When you think of Eigth Street in Miami what do you picture?  The Calle Ocho festival? Greasy plates of maduros (sweet plantains) or heaps of rice and beans?  The heart of Cuban culture in the United States?  No matter which image comes to mind first, it is a pretty safe assumption that fine dining is probably WAY down on the list.  Don't get me wrong, every now and then I succumb to the pastel de plantano from Versailles (a nicely compact sweet/salty duality made of layered maduros puree and picadillo), or I crave a quick taco fix from El Carnel.  However, I would hardly describe Calle Ocho as a trendy or upscale destination.  Color me surprised to discover the hidden gem known as Catharsis.
     Catharsis is simultaneously the ideal place to bring work colleagues, to impress a date, or to take that out of town guest looking for an authentic Miami experience.  Full of character, the seductive cuisine is Latin-inspired, and they've got a fair offering of wines to boot.  The decor is a blend between a dungeon and a wine cellar, only far more welcoming and sleek.

One of the more unique aspects of the restaurant is their live music, so you can enjoy an upbeat, vivacious salsa song, or a romantic seranade, while enjoying your meal.
     When you're ready to start eating, Catharsis' ceviche is quite fresh, very well prepared, and it has just enough citrus flavor.  I'm also a huge fan of their crunchy tostones, which are perfectly cooked and never overly greasy.  They come topped with a sweet and tangy tomato-mango pico de gallo that breaks up the starchy flavor and infuses some color and a fresh bite.  My true Achilles Heel lies in cheese though, and accordingly, their proveleta wins me over every time.  It sounds ludicrously simple, and it probably is, and yet, there is something about this emphatically salty, addictive option that keeps me coming back for more of this Argentinean specialty.  At Catharsis the round flat chunk of cheese is cut like a pizza into easy snacking slices.  It almost tastes like it is breaded in Parmesan, so strong in umami flavor.  Not that I mind the saltiness, but they do try to scale it back with the addition of fresh greens, bits of tomato, and a caramely aged baslamic that adds just a touch of sweetness.  It is divine.
   The entrées at Catharsis offer a nice range from lighter choices to more heavyweight dishes.  The corvina with guava emulsion is incredibly tender.  Another enjoyable selection is the "Lomon de Cerdo a la Parrilla con Naranha Confitadas, hierbas frescas, y pure de papas con pancetta crocante."  In English, this roughly translates out to a grilled pork tenderloin with orange confit and fresh herbs, served with homemade mashed potatoes and crsipy pancetta.  The mashed potatoes on the plate come suffused with a smoky ham flavor and crispy bits of bacon, as debscribed.  It contrasts well with the lightly seasoned pork, adorned with fresh thyme.  Be warned though, the carmelized orange rind is full of assertive bitterness, so don't bite into it expecting otherwise.
They also offer a selection of pastas, all for pretty reasonable prices.  Yes this isn't traditionally Latin, but they are still quite tasty, and shouldn't be overlooked.  As simple as it seems, the "ravioli de pera y gorgonzola con pesto cremoso," in English the pear and gorgonzola ravioli with a creamy pesto is also quite enjoyable.  Served as a heaping bowl laden with several ravioli, the inner filling is dulcet like a sweet potato mash, and it is speckled green with a creamy pesto with a nice hint of garlic.  As an additional perk, they shave fresh parmigiana cheese tableside, and in my opinion, this is the way to go as the saltiness it offers breaks up the sweetness of the dish quite nicely.
They also spruce up risotto, offering either a more traditional seafood (de Mar), or an inventive  version.  The Latino risotti comes with chopped maduros (sweet plantains), shredded marinated pork, and a guava mojito.  It is not only visually stimulating, but also very well balanced.
     The Latin flair is especially obvious in the dessert selection.   In a town where flan comes a dime a dozen, this is one of the better ones to be had. The flan itself is lusciously smooth, as delectable as it is aesthetically pleasing.
The dulce de leche crepes are literally en fuego, flambeed tableside and stuffed with thick, decadent caramel.

Overall, this Eighth Street destination should not be overlooked.  It is one of Miami's better Latin restaurants, in which culinary skill elevates more traditional dishes to new heights.  The atmosphere is another huge advantage, oscillating between quiet and refined dining to a vivacious, lively event.  So come and enjoy the setting, while indulging in some bold and flavorful cuisine at:

Catharsis Restaurant and Lounge
1644 Southwest 8th Street
Miami, FL 33135
(305) 479-2746
Catharsis on Urbanspoon


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