"Hello! I'm Juanma. Welcome to my Family's Table". This is how the menu at El Cielo begins.
As we step foot inside the downtown Miami waterfront restaurant, we are immediately taken back into a simpler place. The interior is earthy. The decor is modest. Somewhere between the lush tropical trees lining the walls and the rich mahogany tables, we are transported.
El Cielo Miami is the third installation from acclaimed chef Juan Manuel Barrientos. His first El Cielo in Medellin, Colombia landed in "Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants," putting Barrientos, at age 29, amongst the youngest chefs to receive such a prestigious accolade. The menu is divided into two experiences to choose from: the "Journey", which promises to be the best expression of creativity from Barrientos' kitchen and the "Trip", a slightly abridged version. Each course promises to be a sensory experience. Smitten to be Barrientos good hands, we begin the Journey.
We are immediately invited to cleanse our hands with a perfumed towelette. And greeted with an amuse bouche of tropical flavors and an aperitif to open our palettes. The Colombian hospitality is echoed in the little details. Just like that, we feel at home.
PINEAPPLE | Peach, Coconut
YUCCA | Corn
SALMON | Corn Gel
BLOOD SAUSAGE | Blue Cheese
CARROT SOUP | Guava, Plantain
From the start, it is apparent that Barrientos is an expert at marrying tropical flavors into cohesive and artful plates. Carrot and banana might not seem like an obvious pairing, but the soup course does just that. A plantain puree singing notes of cinnamon and cardamon is enrobed in a silky carrot soup. It's the perfect heart warming start to the meal.
CHOCOTHERAPY | Chocolate
The chocotherapy experience begins to set the stage for Barrientos' gastronomical journey. He engages a sense that is often overlooked in most haute cuisine: the sense of touch. A sink-sized stone bowl is brought to every table, and a generous amount of chocolate is poured into our hands. We are invited to feel the chocolate enrobe our hands, massage it into our palms, and eat it off our fingers. Barrientos' intends to transport diners to their childhood, a simpler time where the world of gastronomy was experienced by feeling it first with our hands.
The deliciousness of the rich dark chocolate aside, there is something admirable about this experience and how it strips the pretentiousness from a fine dining setting. The 5-year-old in all of us is jumping for joy for being able to play with food again. It's messy. It's fun. It's pure.
TREE OF LIFE | Pain de Yucca, Coconut Tomato Sauce
The "tree of life" is quite the statement centerpiece. Atop this copper-laden tree sits a beautifully golden pan de yuca, dressed with paprika and parmesan. Pan de yuca, or cassava bread, is a traditional Colombian bread. Barrientos pairs his with a creamy coconut tomato sauce. We can't stop reaching for more.
PRAWN | Carrot, Squid Ink
SALMON | Quinoa, Garlic Emulsion
PORK BELLY | Tangerine, Cornbread Butterflies
HALIBUT | Tomatoes
BREAD AND BUTTER | Brown Butter Ice Cream
THE AMAZON | Lulu Fruit Gelato, Chocolate, Pineapple, Yucca
The Cafetal course is the culmination of Barrientos' journey through Colombia. The stage is set: lush plants, stone, and coffee. Just like that, diners are transported to the misty countryside of Antioquia, a region of Colombia known for its abundant coffee plantations.
The cool liquid nitrogen permeating through our table symbolizes the early morning mist rolling down the steep Colombian mountains. As this theater develops, a Chemix Coffeemaker brews a cup of fresh Colombian coffee. A fitting end to a lovely meal.
CAFETAL | Coffee, Mignardises
CAFETAL | Colombian Coffee
MIGNARDISES | Passion Fruit, Chocolate
Croissants and Caviar's TL;DR:
The Journey tasting, with its 13 courses, is truly the best expression of Barrientos' creativity.