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Behind the Line: Nuevo Latino twist

Chef Douglas Rodriquez brings his latest to Miami Beach's Hilton Bentley Hotel

By Lauren Kramer
December 05, 2010

When he contemplated opening his fifth restaurant in 11 years, Chef Douglas Rodriguez knew what he had to do. "I felt there was a big need for a seafood restaurant in Miami Beach's South of Fifth neighborhood," says the 45-year-old chef known for his Nuevo Latino cuisine. "I want to make a difference, to ensure that 20 years from now my children and grandchildren know what Chilean sea bass tastes like. There are lots of great seafood products out there that are farmed sustainably and taste delicious, and they fill all the needs of a seafood restaurant."

The James Beard award-winning chef is the man behind the Rodriguez Hospitality Group whose restaurants include Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, Deseo in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Ola at Sanctuary and D. Rodriguez Cuba at The Hotel Astor, both on Miami Beach.

De Rodriguez Ocean opened Oct. 7 just off the lobby of the Hilton Bentley Hotel, which is located on South Beach's famed Ocean drive. The restaurant menu features around 20 seafood species, 80 percent of which are sustainably harvested. Rodriguez' goal was to increase that percentage to 100 by the end of the year.

The restaurant's location is exquisite, an oceanfront space with a 25-foot ceviche bar, dark wood ceiling and décor featuring wooden mermaids and lush tropical plants. The 200-seat restaurant also offers outdoor seating on the patio of the hotel swimming pool - there is literally water everywhere.

Despite its waterfront location and abundance of Florida seafood, the majority of products that diners consume at De Rodriguez Ocean is shipped from far afield. There's organic Scottish salmon, Maine lobster, Peruvian blue tilapia, mussels from Prince Edward Island and farmed Tambour Rouge, an African fish. Rodriguez counts Florida's Finest Seafood in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Kanaloa Seafood in Santa Barbara, Calif., among his vendors.

"It might not make sense to fly seafood in from far away, but if I can make a shrimp ceviche taste good with shrimp from Belize, then why not?" he says.

The cost of shipping is reflected in some of the menu price points. While on some items there is no difference in price compared to other seafood restaurants in the area, on other items prices are as much as 15 to 20 percent higher, he says. That's because Rodriguez can pay up to $12 for organic salmon, and between $3.50 and $4 per pound for conventionally farmed salmon. Starters cost around $14 while entrées range between $19 and $32. It's too early to say if customers appreciate the focus on sustainable seafood and are prepared to pay extra for it.

"We're too young to have experience in that yet, but really, what I'm being judged on is my cooking ability," Rodriguez says. De Rodriguez Ocean's food is styled after a traditional fish house with simple fish preparations using South American culinary techniques and Rodriguez' signature Nuevo Latino twist. The lobster bisque, for example, is prepared in classic Spanish style with paella rice as the thickening, rather than roux and cream. Corvina a lo Macho, a classic Peruvian dish that translates to "a manly dish," features pan-seared corvina served with a seafood sauce of shrimp, mussels and 
calamari that is added table-side.

At the raw bar diners can select from a dozen ceviches, including organic Peruvian blue tilapia with grapefruit and mint, or corvina ceviche with aji Amarillo and chili peanut salsa. Diners can choose creative small plates such as smoked marlin tacos in malanga tortillas and charred pardon peppers or opt for entrées like the whole-roasted branzino and adobo-dusted seared tuna. All meals at De Rodriguez Ocean begin with a basket of cassava chips and a tuna dipping sauce. The tuna is from a can that's not certified sustainable, but Rodriguez is working on finding an alternative source.

Those looking for 
a non-seafood dish can choose from 
yucca gnocchi with mushroom bolognaise, braised short ribs and grilled organic chicken breast.

Rodriguez is hopeful that he can effectively communicate the message that he is passionate about not contributing to the depletion of any species. Chilean sea bass is his prime example, a species at the forefront of his consciousness.

"It's one of the most overfished species out there - everyone wants to have it but nobody knows how little of that fish is left, and how the sea bass are getting smaller and smaller in size as they pull them out of the water," he says.

 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia

 

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