Do not try to convince chef and manager Florian Tomas that tapas are only to be served in cafes and bistros, and only as small, inexpensive plates to share. He will tell you they are also served in fine dining establishments, where they are called appetizers. Like the shrimp in garlic and olive oil. His are on the menu for $18, not your ordinary tapas. “Mine have eight shrimp, not six,” he says, somewhat indignant. After all, he has cooked for the King of Spain. And the shrimp are large and very fresh.
Welcome to the latest entry in fine Spanish dining. Located in the former enclave of Mint on Alhambra Circle, Las Tapas Gables – despite its name – is a sophisticated, intimate dining experience, expertly overseen by Tomas, who fairly obsesses over each dish. Think the Spanish version of Pascal’s on Ponce.
“This is from the north of Spain, from Asturias,” he will explain about one dish. “This is from Catalonia,” he will say of another with a special pride, since he is from Barcelona, the Catalan capital. Some of the dishes are pure classics, like his creamy Ensalada Rusa of potato and tuna. “We used to call it Imperial Salad during the days of Franco,” says Tomas. “But now we can call it Russian Salad again.”
What we immediately liked about Ensalada Rusa was thatit was served cold. You don’t often get cold dinner dishes, and we found this one not only wonderfully flavorful, but refreshing inits coolness. They also offer a chilled leek soup. Another dish we enjoyed was the Fabes con Rabo, an invention of Tomas that slow cooks (as in five hours) oxtail and then further cooks it with large, white fava beans. The result is a savory, thick stew of succulent meat and fluffy beans.
We learned from Chef Tomas that Spain is number two in the world when it comes to fish consumed per capita (number one is Japan). When put in that perspective, you realize Las Tapas is a cozier version of La Dorada, the icon of Spanish seafood that reigned on Giralda Avenue for decades before Covid ended its run.
Tomas executes fine seafood dishes, especially his deep water corvina loins grilled with garlic butter, and a seafood paella that is the ultimate Spanish comfort food, cooked so the rice becomes crunchy on the bottom of the pan and served so it can be shared. And if it’s authenticity you want, then order fritura de dorado a la andaluza, a uniquely Spanish dish as simple as it is tasty: a plate of tiny, fried fish from the waters off northern Spain, served with two fried eggs that are mixed, tableside, into the nest of fries. It is crunchy, salty, fishy, and delicious.
The interior of Las Tapas is also simple, spare and authentic, with framed plates on the wall and one large image of the Cibeles fountains in Madrid. The music, mostly Spanish guitar, is perfect for the setting and also speaks to that unique Spanish way of presenting things in their essence.
Las Tapas Gables is the third Spanish restaurant in Miami-Dade for owner Antonio Hidalgo. His other two – El Rincon Asturiano and Las Tapas de Rosa – are both in Little Havana. But for the small chain, coming to the Gables was the gold standard. “Coral Gables is the center of fine dining in Miami,” says Tomas. “Of course, we had to come here.” Part of Tomas’ hands-on presence in both cooking and serving diners is his appreciation of wine, and the collection Las Tapas offers (with pride) is dominated by excellent vintages from Spain and Portugal.
Las Tapas Gables is not inexpensive. The lamb chops with aioli and small potatoes are $45, as is the deep water corvina, while the oxtail with white beans is $32. Then again, his cold, creamy leek soup is $12, and that plate of fried dorado fish a mere $18. And you can always come for the $23.95 three-course luncheon specials. In the end, what you pay for is beautifully prepared Spanish cuisine at its finest, served with care in a small, gourmet establishment. Tapas indeed.
Las Tapas Gables
276 Alhambra Circle
*Photos by Michael Campina