I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of El Cielo although it has been open for a year. A friend who lives in Florida told me I should give it a try. We decided to go for my husband’s birthday. I have to say our dinner has far surpassed anything I have had in Miami this year.
It is located on the Miami River in the downtown core in a condo high rise building at 41 SE 5th st. The Colombian Chef is Juan Manuel Barrientos. This is his third restaurant and his first in North America. His cuisine is contemporary American, Latin and Colombian. He also did a stint at Arzak in San Sebastián, a famous 3 star Michelin restaurant. This is a foodie paradise and a cut above any cooking I have seen in Miami.
They offer two Degustation menus. A 10 course for $85, and a 15 course for $125. Don’t be put off by the number of courses or the price. The price is reasonable for the amount of labour intensive work involved in each dish. As for the amount of courses, they are quite small. Each course is presented with inspiration and a cultural background meant to captivate all the experiences.
You can also do wine pairings. Five glasses of estate wine for $60 a person or five glasses of reserve wine at $90 a person. We couldn’t drink that much so they offered three reserve wines at $60 each for us.
It is a tiny restaurant with about eight tables. The atmosphere is chic and sophisticated with wooden tables, and white leather chairs, overlooking the Miami River. There is also a patio lounge outside.
There are lots of elements to each dish. There is that surprise factor because you don’t know what is coming next. They do ask you up front if there are any foods you do not like, and can adjust the menu accordingly.
This was a multi-sensory meal, which starts by having warm silken melted chocolate poured over your hands, to visually exciting plates which combine the flavours and ingredients from the Chef’s home country with modern techniques. He uses such ingredients as plantains, corn, tapioca, coconut, lemon, squid ink, and so on.
The servers are knowledgeable and accommodating, although their English skills could be better.
Molecular gastronomy comes to Miami. Yes I know Alter is also trying to do this as well, but this experience is far more graceful and a cut above. Every course is prepared with meticulous care.
This meal may not be on the same level as a meal you would get in other gastronomic restaurants in the world, but I think the meal was a feast for the senses, with visually exciting plates and bold flavours.