If you were to ask me what my favourite cuisine is I would definitely say, Basque. It is considerably unique and different from the broader Spanish cuisine as it is very food-forward. It is the epitome of culinary art, blended with passion, classic and gastronomic traditions yet modern and innovative in its execution. It has long been considered the best region for food in Spain. There is an abundance of produce from the sea and its fertile valley. It is linked to its territory, environment, seasonality, sauces, tastes, and memory. In fact, the Basque city of San Sebastián alone has more Michelin starred restaurants per square kilometer than any city in the world besides Kyoto in Japan.
So, it was with great excitement and anticipation to learn in July 2020 that the Rubell Museum at 1100 NW 23rd Street in the Allapath neighborhood of Miami was opening a restaurant featuring Basque food called, Leku, which name translates into, “the place”. Showcasing Basque Country-inspired cuisine, under executive Chef Mikel Goikolea, formerly of the three-star Michelin restaurant Azurmendi in San Sebastián. The chef de cuisine is Aitor Garate Berasluzu, formerly the sommelier and development manager of one of my all-time favourite restaurants, three-star Michelin Asidor Etxebarri in San Sebastián. The owners are also veteran heavy hitters with many well-known restaurants under their belt, who know the importance needed to run a fine dining establishment. It was unfortunate that they had to open during the Covid pandemic. I had to wait to dine there upon my return from Canada, but it was well worth the wait.
When we dined there for dinner, we selected to eat outside but would have also felt comfortable dining inside as the space had large garage-type doors open to the elements. That is the beauty of dining in Miami. We were seated at a well-spaced table in a lovely garden with twinkle lights. The French bistro-style decor is casual yet chic, with candle-lit white tables, wicker chairs, concrete floors, and a long, vibrant green velvet tufted banquette. A beautifully painted wall mural by Allison Zuckerman is the central focal point of the dining room, complementing the museum’s art forward venue. Inside they can seat about 40 people at full capacity. The outdoor patio, which seats 44, has a laid-back vibe and was perfect for social distancing. Soft music plays in the background and the service was excellent and engaging. They are waiting on installing a Basque grill that will be the centerpiece of the outdoor area. This is where the wood-fired items will be prepared.
The menu can either be ordered a la carte or you can enjoy an 11-course tasting meal for $95 that was well worth the splurge and quite reasonable considering the detail, and the depth and complexity of many of the dishes.
We did not experience one undesirable dish. Everything from the gazpacho to the Iberico croquets, to the tomato and cracker dish, to the beet carpaccio and Iberico tartare, were all exquisite, artfully plated, and delicious. Next up our scallops and chanterelles, wild mushroom rice, and our fish were all exemplary. But for me, the most memorable and probably the simplest thing we ate was the 30-day dry-aged prime beef cooked medium rare, served with THE best hand-cut French fries. They researched for a long time to find the best suppliers and farms. The meat had such an intense flavour profile. Their plan is to eventually do their own dry aging. It brought back memories of some of the outstanding meat I had when visiting San Sebastián.
We continued with three desserts. A smoked milk ice cream with a cold-pressed beet sauce, reminiscent of what we had at Etxubarri, a molten chocolate cake with an intense and rich chocolate flavour, served with raspberry sorbet and, a slice of a typical, but well-executed Basque cheesecake reminiscent of La Vîna.
There is an enhanced cocktail bar, plus I was overjoyed to see they also have a variety of gin macerations. I enjoyed a sweet strawberry and basil concoction and my husband had an elegant tasting roasted pineapple and mint gin drink. There is a nice selection of mostly Spanish wines by the glass, plus beers and vermouth. The wines by the bottle offer a much broader world selection.
Miami’s most buzzed-about eatery was well worth the wait and very palate-pleasing. They showcased some exceptional regional specialties, Leku is unlike anything else in Miami. This restaurant is a destination in itself.