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Baby’s Daddy Drama; On The Mile…3½ winks

Did the owners of Ortanique On The Mile make a baby mama out of Old World Caribbean cooking or did they marry it with New World flair and birth a style of cooking to influence future generations?

I know, I know—Ortanique sounds like the name of somebody’s baby’s mama, right?  An offshoot of Martinique or Shanique?  Yeah, I thought so to, but according to the restaurant’s very orange advertisement in Network Miami, where I first read about the restaurant, “ortaniqueâ€? is a “hybrid fruit produced by crossing orange and tangerine.â€? 

I asked Ortanique On The Mile’s Executive Chef /Co-Owner, Chef Cindy Hutson, about the meaning of the word and she said it was a Jamaican term, but after consulting The Jamaican Patois Nazis on “ortanique,â€? I came up empty-handed and decided that perhaps the word was from a parish my patois consultants were unfamiliar with. 

Now, before I get into the details about this food sojourn, I’ll admit that the most common topics among us, twenty-something, thirty-something females, are men, good sex, (or a lack thereof), career, and babies (no newsflash to you, of course).  One can be engaging in a conversation about buying a car, rising gas prices, flatulence (not an issue of mine); trifling political leaders, planting avocados, or a sale at Targét and somehow, someway the conversation ALWAYS derails into one of the previously mentioned topics. 

It’s a pandemic, I tell you.  That said, as you read through part I of “Baby’s Mama Drama on The Mile,â€? I hope you see the significance of the dining experience beyond décor, the chef, and food presentation.  Sometimes, you just want to get some things off your chest and a good friend, a decadent meal, and a few glasses of primo vino can be the perfect mise en scène for such cathartic moments. 

Now, on to the food…I invited my girl, nicknamed “Valium,â€? on this pilgrimage to Coral Gables in south Miami, to experience Ortanique on the Mile (Doesn’t seem very smart to bring a girl nicknamed Valium to a restaurant raved for it’s wine list, but oh well, she’s a big girl).  Reviews on Ortanique’s three locations—Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and in South Florida, were quite favorable and a fellow food writer/chef said it was “an amazing experience,â€? so I was pretty curious to see if the hype was legit. 

So far my eating experiences in casual, kinda-fine, and fine dining restaurants in Miami had been pretty sub-par—Hallandale Beach Boulevard’s Tutta Pasta’s hard pasta with imitation crab meat; Las Olas’ Caffe Blu’s Publix-style imitation crab and shrimp salad bubbling with mayo were quite disappointing. 

I was longing for a New York food experience.  Where’s a River Café or a Baluchi’s, (the one on 6th Avenue between Washington Place and West 4th Street is the best), when you need one?  I had not been to Coral Gables in years and really had no memory of it, so I had my presumptions. 

My experience with fine dining Caribbean restaurants in these upscale neighborhoods have been just this: rich folks + money = dumb down the seasonings and flavors that define Caribbean cooking.   Make it more “palatableâ€? or “accessible.â€?  Was this going to be that same formulaic experience?  Was everything going to taste like boiled chicken with some fake jerk rub thrown together by some charlatan Caribbean food purveyor? 

Still, despite my skepticism I was proud to be reviewing a highly respected restaurant, launched by a successful Black restaurateur such as Delius Shirley, (He’s the cute dreadlocked dude in Ortanique’s advertisements).  I did a little digging on Mr. Shirley; (my father’s nickname is also “Mr. Shirley.â€?  Could this be foody fate?), and learned that he is the son of “critically acclaimedâ€? Caribbean chef, Norma Shirley. 

Mr. Shirley has enjoyed a commendable 21 successful years in the restaurant business.  He began with innovating his mother’s restaurant in Jamaica—“Norma at the Wharfhouseâ€?—into a burgeoning bar, marina, and bed and breakfast.  He then teamed up with Chef Cindy Hutson, a revered chef, to open a sister restaurant in south Florida. 

The dynamic duo did very well with “Norma on the Beach,� earning the coveted 5-Star Diamond Award, which opened glamorous doors including consulting work for restaurant shows on BET network.

Shirley and Hutson led Ortanique on the Mile through many successes:  “Best New Restaurant of the Year” for 1999 by Esquire Magazine; top rating from The Miami Herald; five stars from the El Nuevo Herald; “Best New Restaurantâ€? by Bon Appetit Magazine; 4 Star Award (2001-2002) by Mobil Travel Guide; but what made me most proud was the restaurant’s Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2002, 2003, and 2004, for it’s amazing wine list of 350 bottles which is something Black restaurants are not known for. 

Today Mr. Shirley and Chef Cindy have a few other restaurants under their belt: Copra, a 1-year-old American-style family comfort food venue in Baltimore, Maryland; and I-year-old Bogwalk, a Caribbean restaurant, in Destin, Florida. 

Valium and I crept up Miracle Mile (As usual she was talking about someone’s baby mama or baby daddy drama).  We looked at the elaborate bridal and furniture boutiques that bejeweled this strip.  A Jaguar pulled up next to us at the red light, blasting A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxationâ€? from their infamous Midnight Marauders cd.  

(Me and Valium were like, “I like ‘em Brown, Yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian, My name’s Phife Dog from The Zulu Nation…â€? Those are the only words we know).  There was Ortanique to our left close to The Actor’s Playhouse and Miracle Theater—It did feel oh so very Caribbean with all the voluminous plant-life dressing the entrance.

We walked in and I immediately got the feeling of being in a West Indian harem—even the hostess had a rather invitational, swishy walk as she guided us through the venue to our seats.  Ortanique seats 110 guests, though it doesn’t appear that way and there are sheaths of fabric everywhere in variations of the ortanique hue. 

Guests are more like voyeurs sitting at the wall banquettes where we sat, peering through these sheaths at arriving guests, bar groupies, and the fluidity of the waitstaff sliding through tables. I strolled around Ortanique and felt time warped to a bungalow in Portland, Jamaica, near the Blue Lagoon back in December 2004.  

An astute, Michael R. Shikany, 26, The General Manager and Wine Buyer, introduced himself as I read one of the restaurant’s many reviews hanging on the walls.  Mike’s firm handshake said he meant business and, I felt comfortable enough to put my acute food sensibilities in his hands.

He offered a tasting menu of six courses paired with six wines of his choosing and I simply nodded.  “This is going to be good,â€? my mind assured my tastebuds.  I walked back to the table, anticipating what culinary ensemble Michael had arranged for us and Folks, when the wine and food arrived, the experience was… well, here endeth part one of   “Baby Daddy Drama on The Mile.â€? 

Tune in on Wednesday, May 25th, to find out what sordid confession I revealed to Valium and oh yeah, to read why Ortanique is worthy of all it’s dramatic culinary accolades…

Ortanique On The Mile
278 Miracle Mile

Cross Street:
Salzedo & Miracle Mile (Coral Way)

Hours of Operation:
Lunch: Monday – Friday: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Dinner: Monday – Wednesday: 6:00pm – 10:00pm
Thursday – Saturday: 6:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday: 5:30pm – 9:30pm

Payment Options:

Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Diners Club
Phone: (305) 446-7710
Neighborhood: Coral Gables, Florida
Dining Style: Fine Dining
Cuisine: Fusion / Eclectic

Offers: Full Bar, Happy Hour, Non-Smoking Area, Smoking Area, Takeout, Wheelchair, Wine
Parking: Valet
Dinkinish’s scale by wink:

1 wink= experience sucked
2 winks =needs work
3 winks = a delicious experience
3½= truly on their way to greatness
4 = the ultimate foody journey

For more reports and articles please call (212) 481-7745 to subscribe to the newsstand edition of The Black Star News.

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