For many, a trip to the mall has always been a necessary evil. Amid a pandemic, picking up a pair of shoes might be an afternoon fraught with anxiety for any of us.
While all the shops at Aventura Mall are indoors, the shopping center is taking many precautions, from multiple hand-sanitizing stations to a requirement that facemasks be worn at all times. And the mall has its own outdoor area that allows access to the Apple store, the food court, and many eateries without having to enter the indoor concourses.
It is there, among the fountains, that you'll find Pani.
Decked out in pastel colors, gilt trim, a fantasy jungle mural, and giant giraffe wall sconces, the restaurant seems as though it was designed to be a magnet for foodie Instagrammers. The oversize cakes festooned with candy-bar trimmings and confetti sprinkles, the intentionally mismatched plates, and the towers of sweet and savory bites for afternoon tea were all designed with camera in mind.
And it all just might be an hour of escapism Miamians need right now.
One look at Pani's creator, Eliana Trotta, and you realize how the concept was born. The chic, petite Argentinean looks more like fashion influencer than baker as she describes the origin story of the restaurant.
Ten years ago, Trotta — whose nickname is "Pani" — started baking from her home in Buenos Aires. The then-26-year-old's cakes grew in popularity — so much so, Trotta says, that the business outgrew her kitchen.
"My home was like a factory," she says. "I was alone in my house making cakes and I knew needed to take the next step and open my own shop."
Trotta found a tiny vacant shop on a side street. There was no foot traffic, but she found herself drawn to the challenge of the space.
"Something was telling me that I needed to open my shop right there — on a street where nothing happened. That feeling was very strong."
For the first few days, the bakery was empty. Then the customers began to arrive. And they told their friends. Soon people were lining up for her elaborate cakes, including her pasta frola, an Argentinian take on a traditional Italian shortbread tart typically filled with quince paste or dulce de leche.
A decade later, having opened a dozen Pani locations in Argentina, Peru, and Paraguay, Trotta moved to Miami for her U.S. debut. Having found what she hoped would be an ideal location at Aventura Mall, she was brought up short by the onset of the pandemic, which delayed her opening until October.
The restaurant offers a full menu, divided into sections with cute names like "Between Two Panis" (sandwiches) that traverse all manner of culinary categories cuisines, from salads to poke bowls. If you want to dine on finger sandwiches and cakes, you can do so daily from 3 to 7 p.m. with "Teanner," Pani's high tea service, which brings a tower of sweet and savory bites along with your choice of teas, coffee, or a mimosa ($55 per person).
Despite the damper of COVID, Pani's outdoor area is lively, with diners taking photos of oversize slices of "Orange is the New Pie," a honey/cookie crust filled with orange curd ($11); and the "Kat Flora" — Trotta's pasta flora, made with sweet-potato paste, filled with cream cheese and dulce de leche, and topped with Kit Kat bars ($15).
"My dream was about to happen and then the pandemic happened. But I prefer to see my glass as half-full," says Trotta. "There's so much sadness, but the spirit of the brand is to make people happy. There's a lot of gray in the world and I hope that people can find some some color here."
Pani at Aventura Mall. 19501 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura,; 877-568-7264; welovpani.com. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday.