Picture the Flamenco dancer as still life: layers of elaborate ruffles, theatrical makeup, the hair cinched in an impossibly tight black bun.
But now she lifts her skirt to her knees. The audience hushes.
Slowly, she clicks the heels of her dance shoes against the wooden stage. It's a pulse.
And the beat quickens. The Spanish guitarist strums, following her moves, her feet a blur. The narcotic rhythm compels the diners to rise.
The dancers leave the stage, their energy enlivening the crowd. One dancer lures a patron to his feet. There is clapping and cheering. Tables are pounded. Still holding his glass of wine, the man improvises. He grabs a flower from the place setting on the table, clenches it in his teeth and stamps his feet in time to the guitar.
This is not Madrid or Barcelona. This is Tapas y Tintos, a new restaurant in the heart of Miami.
Traditional Flamenco is made up of four musical elements: the Cante or voice, Baile (Dance), Toque (Guitar) and the Jaleo, which translates to "hell-raising," and involves the hand-clapping, foot-stomping and rowdy shouts from the audience.
Flamenco began with a single singer, an a cappella voice belting a primitive chant while accompanying rhythms were beaten out on the floor with wooden staffs or canes. These palos pecos, or "dry styles," are the oldest forms of Flamenco.
Flamenco was originally thought to have connections to gypsy religious rites. The music was considered primitive and suited only to the lower classes. But the gypsy's mysterious music caught the attention of the romantic writers of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Flamenco today is a visceral and sensual experience. Female and male dancers, each in costume, sometimes circle each other like predatory animals. The moment is full of tension.
In Miami, a visitor can dine amid true Flamenco dancers or even take classes, which vary seasonally. Ask the dancers for times and locations; when they are not performing, they are also instructors.
Local restaurateurs Nicolas De Justo and Fernando Jimenez have two Tapas y Tintos – Española Way on South Beach and the latest in a former railroad station in the design district Midtown Miami.
The restaurant's mascot and logo, a black bull in a red board, glows at night over the sidewalk terrace. Sounds of live music – flamenco guitar and the staccato sounds of heel-clicking dancers – draw locals and tourists to what was once an industrial neighborhood.
The restaurant interior has an unusual geometry, thanks to its railroad past. On the walls are vintage Spanish film posters, Spanish comic strips and nostalgic album covers.
Follow the beat to the outdoor terrace. Fringed by a canvas awning and ringed by shrubbery, the live Flamenco performances take place Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.
'Tapas' Means to Cover
For those less familiar with Spanish cuisine, "tapas" is not a particular style of food but a way of eating, of enjoying small portions from many different plates.
The tradition originated in rural Spanish taverns dating to the 14th century. The word tapas means to cover a plate – in the past, a glass of wine (also called tinto for color) might be covered with a slice of cheese and ham as a lid – hence the restaurant's name tapas, to cover, and tintos, for dark wine.
Tapas y Tintos Midtown Executive Chef Fernando Andres has created a menu of more than 50 cold and hot tapas with a smaller section of paellas (rice gumbos) and fish entrees. Spain is a mostly arid country of mountains, but much of its food is fish, reflecting a deep maritime tradition.
The wine list is also entirely Spanish, offering sangria and cocktails that complement the menu's tapas/appetizers, such as:
- Garbanzos con chorizo - a piping hot casserole of chickpeas, garlic, smoky Spanish chorizo and tomato
- Gambas al Ajillo - shrimp sautéed with garlic and extra virgin Spanish olive oil
- Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos - peppers stuffed with cod fish
- Dedos del Diablo - lightly breaded and fried jumbo shrimp stuffed with Serrano ham, goat cheese and served with a tomato salad and avocados
Miami Area Flamenco Restaurants
Tapas & Tintos Midtown
3535 NE 2nd Ave., Miami
Tapas & Tintos South Beach
448 Española Way, Miami Beach
The Spanish restaurant in the heart of Little Havana is probably one of the best-known showcases in Miami for Flamenco dancers and singers. Casa Panza also serves paella and tapas, as well as a great wine list and huge pitchers of sangria. The ambiance is cozy, though on weekends and nights, the space can get crowded.
1620 SW 8th St., Miami
Highlights inlude authentic Spanish cuisine and a great wine list. Diego's also offers Flamenco dancing on Saturday nights featuring a guitarist, singer and three dancers.
65 Alhambra Way, Coral Gables
This restaurant offers Colombian fare and Flamenco dancing from 8-11 p.m. Friday nights. The place can get loud after the Flamenco show when a DJ takes over and videos are projected on the walls. Get there early for a quieter time.
10720 NW 58th St., Doral
La Taberna De San Roman
Sometimes the same Flamenco dancers perform at different restaurants, so don't be surprised when you see familiar faces on the stage. Here, the Flamenco show gets started around 8:30 p.m. Saturday nights.
1460 NW 107th Ave., Miami