Ortanique Gets Resurrected For Three Months
For those who pine for the haute Caribbean cuisine that was the hallmark of Ortanique, Christmas (or Chanukah) has arrived early. The beloved Coral Gables classic is back for a short time, inviting old and new patrons to experience the Caribbean “Cuisine of the Sun” that made it a Gableite favorite for over 20 years before closing during the pandemic.
That reputation, and the associated hype that Chef Cindy Hutson’s pop-up must live up to, was top of mind as I walked in for an evening reservation at its host location, inside an Ortaniqueified MKT Kitchen.
Chef Hutson’s Caribbean-inspired menu always stood out in a city suffused with New American and Italian restaurants. Part of its charm was its orange-hue interior, which the ambiance of the pop-up’s decor recreates, from the beautifully adorned plates to the painted citrus motif along the back wall.
From the start, the experience feels intimate: We were greeted by Chef Hutson’s long-time partner Delius Shirley, who showed us to one of a dozen or so tables glowing under the cozy low light. Once seated, we perused the concise three-course menu, which Chef Hutson says rotates about every week to showcase her cherished dishes.
Along with some crispy bread, our meal started with an amuse bouche: a beer-battered yellowtail snapper topped with malaga mash, Jamaican pickled vegetables, and woo aioli. The bite’s delicious balance of flavors was my first indication that Chef Hutson still knows what she is doing.
For appetizers, we selected the Red Stripe Jamaican beer-steamed Mediterranean mussels and the West Indian curried jumbo lump crab cake. The latter exploded with the flavors of blended curries and red peppers, delectably complemented by a refreshing mango papaya relish.
For our entrees, we dug into a soft, pan sautéed grouper cooked in the restaurant’s orange liqueur Bacardi limon sauce and plated with chayote, carrots, and a sweet plantain boniato mash. The slight saltiness of the grouper danced perfectly with the sweetness of the mash — a match made in culinary heaven.
The true star of the night, however, was the coffee and cocoa encrusted flat iron steak (pictured at the top). The Angus beef was cooked medium rare (per Chef Hutson’s recommendation) and perfectly coated with a succulent chipotle agave glaze. This table favorite came with a creamy corn manchego yellow polenta and grilled asparagus.
Overall, we were enthralled by the homemade yet elevated feel of each plate. Chef Hutson’s magic was always to seamlessly combine simple Caribbean foods with her more complex flavorings, plating everything with intent.
Dessert continued feeding our fascination as we sampled two classics elevated by her outstanding understanding of taste profiles. The rich bread pudding was coated with warm guava and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The mango tres leches was an airy concoction, deliciously topped with whipped cream and mango coulis.
Dining at Ortanique, you feel taken care of from start to finish, not just by Delius and the waitstaff — who checked-in throughout the meal, making sure our wine glasses stayed full — but by Chef Hutson herself. As our cohort of 6 pm reservations approached the end of our meals, she went from table to table asking diners about their experience.
“My excitement to actually be able to do this pop-up has to do not only with being able to give people the food they’ve been missing but being able to rekindle relationships with all those people that we’ve lost a little bit of touch with,” she says. “People should expect to find the same vibe — the warmth, the friendliness, the family feel.” And, oh yes, that fabulous Ortanique take on Caribbean cuisine.
Ortanique will be serving guests with dinner reservations Thursday to Saturday at MKT Kitchen through December 16. Reservations by phone only — call 305.458.8422.