Eat & Drink
Pez on Flagler Street
A Review by Islara Souto
Ah… the subtleties of the Spanish language. Pez refers to a fish in the water, while pescado is a fish out of the water, no longer wriggling and ready for consumption. So when a restaurant named PEZ opened on Flagler Street, I was intrigued.
Billing itself as offering “Tijuana-style seafood,” I became even more intrigued, since my notion of Baja California pescado was limited to fried fish tacos with cabbage. Any taco is an almost-perfect dish because anything can be wrapped in a corn tortilla (or a blasphemous flour tortilla), but a really good taco must have the right ingredients to start, and a flavorsome sauce to kick it up a notch.
I had the Lunch Special: two fish tacos, Ensenada-style. The pescado was a 1” x 3” stick of corvina, a white, flaky, rather bland fish, lightly breaded and fried, and stuffed in an industrial corn tortilla properly charred in spots from a very hot comal, “a smooth, flat griddle, used to cook tortillas.” Sliced, raw cabbage enveloped the corvina and a short drizzle of Mexican crema dressed the tops. That’s it. I could barely taste the fish and so I carefully deconstructed a taco and picked at its innards with my fork (a nice heavy fork) — but I still could not taste the pescado. Thankfully, our server had brought a trio of sauces, which every taco (no matter how sophisticated it is) begs for: salsa verde, an emerald green sauce piquant with cilantro and jalapeno chiles, red pickled onions sliced thin, and a unique sauce I had never tasted before in my travels through Mexico: a darkly ominous, thick, brown sauce of ground peanuts with chile de arbol. I tried dollops of each — and all three took my otherwise bland pescado tacos to a definitely higher, spicier, and yes, tastier level.
One of my companions had a six-inch leg of grilled octopus with a mole made of … olives!, apparently a frequent ingredient of Baja cuisine. I tasted the olive mole and it was black, thick, salty of briny olives — delicious, yet maybe a little too strong for the delicate pulpo, “octopus.” My other companion had the soup vuleve a la vida, “return to life.” He had slept poorly the night before and felt tired, but after drinking the amber broth in which swam mariscos, “seafood,” of various kinds, his countenance brightened and he, indeed, volvio a la vida. I tasted the broth. It was sublime.
Our service was excellent. We were accommodated by a caring server who explained all menu items in a warm and patient way; I could tell she knew the cuisine of Baja and the ingredients in the imaginative dishes the restaurant serves. I asked her for a straw for my agua del dia, a refreshing pineapple and ginger water. They didn’t have straws, she said, because they were trying to be ecologicos. Quick, smart and trendy response.
I was surprised by the décor. Of the many times I had walked by 20 West Flagler Street, seeing the PEZ sign up high above the doors and its tag line announcing Cocina de Mariscos, Estilo Tijuana I envisioned a Baja-vibe. For that, downtown Miami has other joints with surfer-dude posters and cheap tilapia tacos. No, Pez feels — and is — different. It’s almost industrial, which my male companions liked. I thought it needed a touch of textiles, a bit of softness, maybe some plants covering the exposed pipes. I was glad to see locals — most of them downtown workers — filling the large room.
We, at Downtown News, feel strongly that our local businesses should be supported by locals, especially those that are not franchises of large, national companies. We hope PEZ survives the fickleness of downtown restaurants and continues to serve pescado in its own unique, creative and delicious ways.
PEZ: 20 W. Flagler St. Miami 33130. 305.570 3440.
Islara Souto is an editor, translator and community activist. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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