Mas Appeal: A Review of Delicia

New Latin cuisine served in knockout style seduces at SoBro’s latest foodie darling.

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You could fill a Pinterest board with decorating inspiration from The Northside Social’s restaurant family. Those white leather chairs arranged around the NoBro dining room get as many style points as the wicker pendants hanging over the counter at neighboring Northside Kitchenette and Village Cigar’s exotic combination of rattan barstools and antiqued mercury mirror. Now, we can focus our home envy on the trappings of the bloodline’s latest addition: Delicia.

In the renovated shell of a former video-rental store, Delicia’s owners—restaurateurs Nicole Harlan-Oprisu, Tim Oprisu, Bill and Nancy Ficca, and Jamie Browning—built out a high-ceilinged room crowned with eight knotty exposed wood beams and painted in a palette of gold, white, and steel gray. On one side of the open space, a wooden arch frames the liquor bottles lined up along a mirrored back bar, and nice-looking ’tenders rattle cocktail shakers over their shoulders for an audience bellied up to the poured-concrete bar. On the other side of the room, white plaster built-in benches as cool and hard as the bottom of a swimming pool are warmed with cushions of nubby Mexican-blanket fabric and an entire Pier One of throw pillows. It’s a Club Med scene, the kind of crisply exotic backdrop that complements a nice tan and plenty of turquoise jewelry.

All of this sets the proper tone for executive chef Miguel Cordero and chef de cuisine Ricardo Martinez’s menu of New Latin cuisine, a cooking style that is open to many interpretations but, at three-month-old Delicia, takes the form of complexly sauced meats (from a fan of soft, pink pork medallions under smoky-sweet ancho-peach glaze to shredded barbacoa beef drizzled with cilantro-lime crema and piled on top of corn cakes) and seafood made rich with heady Caribbean, Cuban, and Dominican flavors. Prior to ordering, guests are served an amuse bouche of warm, salty sancocho—a slow-cooked beef-and-chicken broth that servers describe as a welcoming stew. The soup is surprisingly addictive, with an intense flavor like that of the stock cooked off of ham-and-bean soup. But more than that, this tiny sipping shot of warmth is a sweet gesture, proof that the place has a good heart.

Diners seem smitten, too. Delicia, with its no-reservations policy, was packing in the crowds well into its first month. Tables filled up with people already hooked on a flowery, jalapeño-infused margarita called Fire & Ice and appetizers like a plate of warm octopus salad chopped into tentacled bits and tossed with anchovy paste. Scoop the seafood mixture onto tostones (squashed-and-fried slices of plantain that taste like soft, warm banana chips); the chewy-starchy, briny-sweet interplay could put ceviche out of business.

It’s a Club Med scene, the kind of crisply exotic backdrop that complements a nice tan and plenty of turquoise jewelry.

As with anything this charming, people—especially all of those SoBro neighbors eager to embrace the corridor’s foodie potential—will look the other way when a dish doesn’t hit its intended note. Two entrees suffered from slapdash finishing: an exquisite shrimp stew poured around a mound of off-temp mashed yucca; and a poblano pepper stuffed with a wonderful mix of ground meat, cinnamon, nuts, and raisins—that was plated with inedibly undercooked rice. The entrees are all over the Latin American map, and beyond. A discombobulated field-greens salad of grilled hearts of palm and cubes of butternut squash with hibiscus-lemon vinaigrette seemed to have deplaned at the wrong airport. And you can get queso and churros this uninspired anywhere, although that won’t stop people from ordering them.

What does shine? You can’t go wrong with barbacoa-beef empanadas, two fat pastries drizzled with creamy habanero sauce, or scallops wrapped in the thinnest wisps of Serrano ham under a light lemon-cava sauce—a brilliantly restrained take on the bacon-wrapped–shellfish fetish. A succulent ribeye, served in velvety medium-rare slices, starts with the simple, clean, robust flavors of a good cut of grilled meat and finishes with a smoky, vinegar-spiked drizzle of chimichurri. And then, when the meal ends with something as sweet as a perfectly executed puck of flan—its cool, silken texture jiggling in a pool of caramel, dusted in powdered sugar—you’ll know it was worth the time it took to get your bearings.

 

DELICIA 5215 N. College Ave., 317-925-0677

Hours Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–midnight., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m.

 

This article appeared in the June 2013 issue.

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