“We said no for three years,” recalls Martín Pittaluga, as I rip off a slice of the steaming pecorino, courgette and mint Pizza Bianca that has just been placed on the unvarnished wood coffee table between us. The co-owner of Parador La Huella, the landmark yet utterly laid-back eatery on Uruguay’s José Ignacio Beach, is telling me about his transcontinental courtship with Hong Kong’s Swire Hotels.
I first visited the deceptively simple rustic wood and thatch-roof beach house with its open kitchen soon after it was opened by Pittaluga and two of his friends – Gustavo Barbero and Guzmán Artagaveytia, a protégé of Argentine über-chef Francis Mallmann – in 2001. I left with fond memories of delicious fire-roasted meats and fresh-off-the-grill fish, and when I heard about the protracted negotiations with Swire over a Miami outpost, I was sceptical. How would Asia’s sleekest city hotel brand transport the barefoot-and-bikini vibe of coastal Uruguay to sky-high Miami?
Quinto La Huella opened last year at EAST, Miami, Swire’s 352-room hotel – part of the Brickell City Centre. Designed by LA’s Studio Collective and hung with original paintings from South American artist Sebastián Mederos, this fifth-floor dining room, I am pleased to say, channels the original beach shack’s laid-back Latin vibe right down to that wood-fire parrilla. It has outdoor seating as well as a sushi bar, and along with the pizza recipe, Pittaluga and company have brought Parador La Huella’s long-time executive chef Alejandro Morales, executive pastry chef Florencia Courreges and 20 of their Uruguayan staff to Miami. The result is that the food, too, lives up to that of its predecessor. I order the Picaña grass-fed top sirloin imported from Uruguay and also the pesca del día, an American red snapper that I douse with Garzón olive oil. Both are delicious. As is the volcán de chocolate fondant lavished in strawberry coulis at this, my new Miami mainstay.