A panoramic photograph of Fenway Park hangs above the counter at Miami Restaurant in Jamaica Plain. Itís a sunny, sweeping view from well behind home plate. The Green Monster looms in the distance, and the Citgo sign stands vigil over park and players. Smaller ballpark panoramas, some autographed, cover another wall. But itís an oversize poster of the Beatlesí Abbey Road album cover, mounted above the refrigerator case, that commands the most attention, partly because of its size, and partly because itís so incongruous. Baseball in a restaurant serving food from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, sure. But the Beatles bring to mind all thatís British: tea and crumpets, dry toast, reserve, restraint, gray, and gloom ó seemingly the antithesis of the tawny ebullience of the flavor, food, and feel of Latin America. Even " Here Comes the Sun " doesnít evoke the same golden-glowing warmth as the merengue music tumbling from the speakers at Miami Restaurant.
When ordering here, it helps if you speak Spanish. A busty waitress with a generous smile informed my unilingual companion and me that they donít always offer everything listed on the menu, and proceeded to list what they did have in a cascade of Spanish syllables. We exchanged helpless glances, then opted for the Cuban special sandwich ($5). After all, according to the big green letters on the door, Miami is KING OF THE BEST CUBAN SANDWICH. The result was eight-by-four inches of meats, vegetables, and cheese warmed between thick bread. The plate of sweet plantains ($2/regular, $4/large) was a golden heap of warmth with a glimmer of brown-sugar sweetness.
At the counter, thereís a case of appetizers, handed over in napkins for munching before the meal. The queso frito ($1) doesnít show up on the menu, and the English translation ó fried cheese ó brings tubular mozzarella sticks to mind. But the Dominican specialty comes as firm and salty un-breaded rectangular slices. The empanadilla ($1) is an envelope of flaky crust with ham and cheese inside. Slightly smaller than a baseball, the papa rellena ($1) is like an oversize Tater Tot stuffed with ground beef. For dessert, the flan and rice pudding ($1 each) come from the refrigerator in modest plastic cups. But the humble containers belie the majesty of the cinnamon-dusted rice pudding and the cube of satiny flan.
But at Miami, the batidos ($2) are best. These tropical-fruit drinks, served in huge styrofoam cups, are smoother than smoothies and milkier than milkshakes. They come in flavors like mango, papaya, strawberry, and vanilla. But why not experiment? When a waitress was asked what flavor mamey was, she grabbed a napkin and drew a picture of what looked like an avocado, labeling the fruit part red and the pit part brown. We were sold, and the drink tasted like a combination of banana, strawberry, and, yes, avocado. Guanabana was another choice ó if only because of the way the word somersaults off your tongue. To explain this one, the waitress grabbed a jar of cloudy white juice from the fridge and pointed to the label. Sour Sop, it read, which sounded more like what happens when you leave a pint of ale out too long at an English pub. But the Beatles poster is the only thing British about Miami, while the beverage, like everything at this place, is velvet smooth and tropically evocative.
Miami Restaurant, located at 381 Centre Street, in Jamaica Plain, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call (617) 522-4644.