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When a designer and a referee open a restaurant

I stumbled across Miracle Mile’s newest diamond in the rough when I was researching the Coral Gables Restaurant Week list for our roundup of recommended musts. The clean logo promoting “friendly food” piqued my curiosity, as did the five-star reviews when I explored online. I decided to delve deeper.

The first time I went for dinner, the owners were sitting a couple of tables over in the picturesque restaurant that doubles as an art gallery. Walking past, you’re drawn in by the stenciled tile bistro tables with vases holding fresh cut white roses, reminiscent of a European riviera town. An eclectic collection of clocks hanging on a column divide the small bar from the kitchen window and colorful canvases line the black walls.

Marcelo Garrahan and Marcela Rodriguez opened up Loui in January, after moving from Argentina in May of last year. They named it after their respective fathers who share the same name.  Neither has a culinary background. She’s an interior designer and he’s a popular referee for Polo tournaments in Latin America and Europe. Loui is a divergence from their path, for sure.

“Actually, we were going on a trip to Switzerland, and stopped through Miami,” Rodriguez recalled. “We playfully begun talking to a chef friend of ours about the idea of opening a restaurant here, and soon it became a reality.”

However, they spent a lot of time back in Argentina in the kitchen and loved entertaining friends and family with Marcela’s Mediterranean-influenced home cooking.

“Both my parents are from Spain, so I grew up eating food cooked with olive oil, and plenty of fresh fish. It’s very simple and very healthy, and I think food has much to do with personal welfare. Offering dishes that are healthy and simultaneously delicious makes you feel better,” Rodriguez said.

Hence their mantra “good food, good life.”

Their goal was to provide a comfortable place that would offer the kind of home-cooked sustenance that they believe helps a person thrive. They’ve been enticing people in off the street and turning them into regulars since they opened in January. But they knew they needed an extra push.

The problem was we knew where we were going we just didn’t know how to get there. We knew our concept, we just hadn’t found the right person,” explained Garrahan.

Finding the right person wasn’t so hard. The quaint locale had already caught the eye of one of the town’s esteemed chefs, Constantine De Lucia, who was then working down the street at Ichimi Ramen. He was the corporate executive chef for five years for the Mimo empire on Brickell and also worked at Milos Estiatorio by Costas Spiliadis and Lure Fishbar. He also worked with the famous chefs Daniel Boulud and Jean Georges.

I used walk past here everyday and it reminded me of one of the first restaurants I ever worked at in New York — that place always stuck with me. It was my dream restaurant. I always wanted a very small place where I would get creative with food,” he said. “Every time I looked in [at Loui] I thought ‘This was it’.”

Three weeks ago, he began working with the couple to curate the menu they all envisioned.

“I come from a big Italian family and Argentinians are basically Italians anyway, right?” he chuckled. “We are in the stage of transitioning into it, right now, but I think we’ll soon become one of the more innovative kitchens in Miami.”

Even though Rodriguez, who only speaks Spanish, and De Lucia, who only speaks English, struggle to communicate, “They think the same way,” Marcelo said. He often acts as the translator. “Sometimes they say the same thing at the same time in different languages!”

De Lucia’s creativity and dedication and her relaxed attitude and encouragement of innovation have melded into an auspicious duo.

“Some of it is really classic, with some little twists here and there,” the chef says, mentioning the porcini-dusted scallops with a velvety potato puree and creamy carrot and cafecito sauce.

“At the end of the day, it’s homey and everybody can relate to it. You don’t need to come in with the biggest budget, you don’t need to save for two months, you can come in and eat great food with a beautiful plate and it’s not pretentious. And I don’t think food should be.”

If you go

All in all, Loui is a great option for a cozy lunch or dinner with your beau, family, and friends. Don’t overlook the salad menu either — it’s not your usual humdrum greens.

Must have: The green tip mussels in tarragon pesto do the unusually used herb justice, and are divine. If you’re deciding from the Coral Gables Restaurant Week special menu, the vegan risotto is bound to satisfy omnivores and vegetarians alike.

Pro tip: They have wine pairing suggestions next to key dishes. You should definitely try them — De Lucia and Rodriguez take pride in this bit.  

By Paula Echevarria
Born in Madrid, raised in Miami, bred in New Orleans: Paula is a gregarious locavore, cocktail groupie and Emmy award winning culinary producer currently working as a freelance writer and multimedia producer for local and national food and beverage publications and TV shows, including Tasting Table, The Miami New Times, Edible South Florida, MIA Bites and WPBT South Florida PBS's Check, Please! with Michelle Bernstein.