By Mitchell Nover
While many restaurants boast a Mediterranean title, most usually focus on one specific area such as Greece, Spain or Italy. Panarea Mediterranean Sea Grill (11052 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami Shores) – named after the second smallest island of the Aeolian chain of volcanic islands in Italy and considered the heart of the Mediterranean – is bucking that trend by offering patrons a true representation of Mediterranean cuisine with dishes from southern Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel and northern Africa.
Menu highlights: The spirit of Panarea is to showcase the true flavors of the Mediterranean with a major focus on the freshness of the sea. Fish is flown in daily from different regions, as well as sourced from South Florida fishermen, and all dishes are prepared with simple ingredients such as olive oil, exotic herbs and spices. At the helm is Executive Chef Claudio Sandri, who hails from Torino, Italy, and has appeared on The Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and is recognized by the Italian Culinary Federation as a “Master Chef.”
You’ll love appetizers that, while hard to pronounce, are easy and delicious to eat, like: Pejerreyes Fritos, a Spanish-inspired dish of fried sand smelts with green zucchini and sage leaves; Sarde Marinate and Crudo di Branzino, which both stem from Italy and entail marinated sardines with a fresh cucumber tomato salad and raw sea bass with pink peppercorn and radish-fennel salad, respectively; and Anginares, fried artichokes with a fresh mint-yogurt tzatziki sauce from Greece.
From the mains, choose from unique house-made pastas and grains, such as: Spirulina, which is algae that is considered one of the most nutritious foods on earth, with seasonal vegetables; Chitarra con Vongole e Ricci, aka spaghetti with clams and fresh sea urchin; and Farro con Gamberi, translated to emmer wheat berries and shrimp.
For dessert, keep the European vibe going and go for the cheese. Pro tip: you won’t actually find the Baked Fromage Brie on the dessert menu (rather the appetizers), but this French delicacy with figs, walnuts, pistachios, and honey is actually the perfect sweet ending to your Mediterranean meal.
Standout dishes: Funnily enough the dish that most impressed at Panarea, despite all of the seafood deliciousness, was the non-seafood Khroufe from Morocco. Maybe because it was so unexpected after all of the previous lighter ocean fare, but this lamb stew prepared with apricots, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots, cinnamon, and herbs really surprised and delighted.
Are we boozing? Oh yes, as the food menu was carefully curated from the best of the Mediterranean, Panarea’s wine program, devised by owner Luca Delogu who is also a trained sommelier, is meant to introduce lesser-known grapes that most people have never heard of, much less tasted. Instead of a traditional wine list, guests will be presented with a map of the Mediterranean, where they’ll see the available wines and their origin. Expect rare grapes such as a Picpoul de Pinet, a varietal from the Languedoc region of France; a Bobal varietal from Valencia, Spain; and Grillo, a varietal native of Sicily, Italy.
Check this place out if you like: Meraki Greek Bistro or Byblos. Not because they’re necessarily that similar to Panarea’s style, but because they are two Miami restaurants that show off different and unique sides to Mediterranean cuisine.
Mitch’s take: Mediterranean is so ubiquitous and quite often the restaurants that serve it become fairly lazy with it. That’s why I loved Panarea’s fresh approach and carefully curated concept. It’s all about showing off the different aspects of regional Mediterranean fare through the lens of hyper-local dishes. It’s a new hidden gem that, most likely, won’t remain a secret for much longer.