The Marvels Of Mamey

Chef Niven Patel’s New Restaurant in the THēsis Hotel is an Astonishing Showcase of Culinary Wizardry

We aren’t the first to say it. After all, Chef Niven Patel was named one of the country’s 10 Best New Chefs in May by Food & Wine magazine. But we’ll second that emotion. Chef Patel is nothing less than brilliant, and his new Mamey restaurant, which opened in August in the THēsis Hotel, is the latest rage among Coral Gables diners. This is culinary genius at work, as Patel transforms the food of the Caribbean with Latin, Polynesian and Thai fusions. Indeed, to call it Caribbean – as the name of the tropical fruit Mamey suggests – is to underplay Patel’s striking enhancements of foods that once seemed familiar.

Take his yellow tuna tostones. Patel’s are lighter and crispier than what Cuban restaurants serve, a perfect crunch against the sweet marinated tuna with tomato sofrito and scallions that top each one. Or his ghee- roasted plantains. Like none you have tasted, softened by roasting in the clarified butter of ancient India, then finished with pickled onions and fresh cilantro, and served on a bed of jerk-spice yogurt. Creamy, delicious and an immediate house favorite.

Chef Niven Patel
Chef Niven Patel at the helm of the new Mamey restaurant

The use of ghee is just one element from Patel’s culinary past, which began with work as an executive chef on Grand Cayman, progressed through work at Michael’s Genuine in the Design District and then blossomed into his Ghee Indian Kitchen, which continues to live in downtown Dadeland. “We are very island-inspired but ingredients- driven,” says Chef Patel, “and I bring all of my experiences from different places.” Picking among his inventive dishes is so hard that we asked for small plates to share everything served.

Among our favorites: A spectacular watermelon salad, with rectangular chunks of watermelon laced with creamy goat cheese, mint and peanuts, with starfruit slices and a tamarind sauce. A dish so uniquely juicy, salty, tart and sweet at the same time that one member of our group burst out, “This is like having a party in my mouth!”

The local wahoo ceviche was equally complex in its flavors, with coconut leche de tigre, cachucha peppers, cilantro, red onion and avocado, expanding the flavor range of that traditional Peruvian dish.

The Marvels Of Mamey
Wahoo ceviche with coconut leche de tigre, cachucha peppers and cilantro

After sampling the above from the Fresh & Light portion of the menu (and sadly forgoing the corn & callaloo empanadas from the Small Bites selections), we moved onto the Large Plates.

Here the superstar is the lemongrass glazed grouper, with bok choy, heirloom carrots, bamboo rice and Thai curry. The blend of flavors is so hypnotic you just want to close your eyes and savor it. The wagyu churrasco is another familiar dish turned up several notches with the quality of the beef, the flavor of a red pepper chimichurri and pairing with a bed of “island” spinach and yucca. The jumbo tiger prawns, freakishly large, came with a sauce of heirloom tomatoes, roast garlic, white wine and parsley over slow cooked, smoked chorizo grits; I would order this just for the sauce. Even the heirloom cauliflower, roasted with cilantro pesto, almonds and chickpeas, was a delight, with a crunchy, nutty flavor.

The Marvels Of Mamey
Lemongrass glazed grouper, with bok choy, heirloom carrots, bamboo rice and Thai curry

The short but impressive dessert menu is led by a Jamaican rum cake with toffee sauce and vanilla bean ice cream, even more scrumptious than it sounds. Mamey also serves a creative lineup of crafted cocktails (among them a terrific jerk margarita) and dessert wines. The pricing is remarkably reasonable for the quality; small plates range from $9 (ghee-roasted plantains) to $17 (glazed lamb ribs), and large plates from $22 (pork belly fried rice) to $36 (wagyu churrasco), with the exception of the jumbo tiger prawns ($49).

The Marvels Of Mamey
Jamaican rum cake with toffee sauce and
vanilla bean ice cream

The interior of Mamey is almost as variegated as the food. The main indoor space is split in two by a long bar with a wall of bottles. On one side is a triangular space with traditional seating that fronts both a triptych of huge paintings in the entranceway and a long, high-ceilinged paseo breezeway outside, where there is plenty of al fresco seating. On the other side is a large room heavily decorated with tropical murals and birds of paradise plants, outfitted with low, modern (and very comfortable) furniture.

While the surroundings are pleasant, the food here is the star. The Gables is fortunate to have Chef Patel practicing his magic here. And beyond the stellar palate of newly nuanced flavors, there is an underlying lightness to the food that makes you feel refreshed. “With all of the styles of cooking I like, it’s all about lightness and getting away from heavy sauces,” says Patel, “so that you can taste all the ingredients.” Which you will.