There are so few places in Miami where you can enjoy dinner and a show. And by “show” we don’t mean a Cuban bongo trio or a celebrity DJ or what passes for burlesque or knockoff Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics in this town. We’re talking about a performance that is primal and authentic. We’re talking intimate theatrics that provide a more creative atmosphere than strobe-lit dance floors. We’re talking unbridled, joyous, intense Flamenco performed by a cross-dressing Spaniard on a small circular stage in a stunning space in the middle of Little Havana. It all goes down every Tuesday night at The Restaurant at El Santo Miami as part of their new “Arrós Negre” dinner series. It’s the Flamenco Show with Juan de Alba. You’re welcome.
The hand claps, finger snaps, and foot stomps will mesmerize you. If you care to be mesmerized, you must go. You must make your reservation immediately. It’s MiMi’s first-ever must-see mandate for people who love to be entertained (read: everyone).
Last year, hospitality entrepreneur Roman Jones (of Kiki on The River, Mandrake, Mokaï fame) revamped the former (read: legendary) Casa Panza space on a busy stretch of Calle Ocho and infused it with cheeky neon, Christian iconography and antique chapel furnishings. There’s a fast casual taqueria in the front, and a “secret” club tucked in the back called Don Diablo, which evokes a Mexican roadhouse dive awash in devil-red lighting and featuring an elite collection of mezcals and tequila. But in the middle is The Restaurant at El Santo, a formal 80-seat dining room which still sports Casa Panza’s grotto-like ceiling, with draping vines and greenery. It’s now outfitted with plush velvet semi-circular banquettes and green leather bench seating. It’s a wondrously visual feast – impossibly opulent, super sexy and super comfy.
But one of the mainstays of El Santo’s former identity as a mom-and-pop Spanish restaurant was a popular Flamenco show performed by legendary showman Juan de Alba who, alongside featured dancer Carla Ochoa, Ale De Mairena on nylon-string guitar (who’s from Sevilla), and dancers Sandra Bara and José Junco, transports guests back to those bygone days of Andalusian splendor. Jones, very smartly, tracked down Juan, Carla, Ale, Sandra and José and resurrected the Flamenco magic. Thank goodness because they are awesome. The show makes for a perfect date night or night out with friends. Juan just may sit in your lap and serenade you. You’ll love every moment of it.
Flamenco is a complex art form incorporating poetry, singing, guitar playing, dance, polyrhythmic hand-clapping, and finger snapping. It often features the call and response known as jaleo, a form of “hell raising,” involving hand clapping, foot stomping, and audiences’ encouraging shouts. The show put on by de Alba and his team is intimate, with them occupying a small wooden platform stage in the middle of the dining room not more than maybe 8 feet across. But then he starts singing and she joins in and then the dancers are up and thrusting their hips and whipping their castenets and thumping their wooden clogs on the wooden stage and. It. Demands. Your attention. Flamenco was stomp before STOMP, it was immersive theater before Sleep No More. It’s rhythm and emotion and movement that is visceral.
De Alba has been performing for 30 years, and for twelve years he was exclusive to the Casa Panza space (now he performs around town several nights a week). He said originally he was hesitant to perform at El Santo but when he saw the reimagined space and incredible atmosphere, he agreed to return to his legendary roots. Again, thank goodness.
He says performing for a contemporary audience can sometimes be filled with mixed emotions; for example when he sees people on their phones not engaging with the stage. “I want to say Pay Attention!” says de Alba. But he also modified the show a bit to appeal to this crowd by incorporating a Vegas-y style showmanship of walking around the crowd and doing comedy bits with audience members. “It’s completely different performing here now,” says de Alba, “We love it.”
As part of the dinner series, guests can partake of Chef Jimmy Gallagher’s flavorful Arrós Negre ($50, sharing plate for 2 guests), a paella style rice with calamari and shrimp cooked in squid ink. Spanish Sangria by the glass ($5), or by the pitcher ($42) are must-gets, and trust us – you’ll want a pitcher or three. Not in the mood for black paella? The regular menu at The Restaurant at El Santo is also available on Tuesdays, and it is excellent, with dishes like ceviche, mini tacos filled with salmon tartare or wagyu beef, plus Latin staples like lomo saltado and churrasco steak. There’s also a delicious array of cocktails you’ll want inside you.
Flamenco Tuesdays are your favorite new Tuesday. You’re welcome.