Expect fab food and a warm welcome at Symcha’s on South Beach

 

By Victoria Pesce Elliott

“In Hebrew, ‘simcha’ means happiness,” explains Symcha Zylberman, the trim, handsome, Venezuelan-born owner who greets guests at his eponymous restaurant with warm embraces and double kisses.

A meal at this casually elegant 3-month-old across the street from Joe’s Stone Crab is a happiness-inducing experience, indeed. Despite South Beach trappings that include a spray-tanned, bustier-clad hostess/model, Symcha’s is something different. The prices are as high as any around town, but the food is worth it.

Chef Joshua Wahler (New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Spice Market, Nobu Miami and L.A.) melds steak-house, New American and Asian influences in a cooking style that’s creative, precise and consistently delicious, if sometimes a bit showy.

Pristine seafood and pedigreed meat get equal billing on the tidy menu of a dozen items, and they’re cooked with equal agility.

The best seats in the house are actually outside on the wide terrace along Washington Avenue beneath broad red umbrellas. Flashlights are required to read the menu, but well-spaced tables, lush landscaping and a low-key soundtrack make conversation easy.

Meals begin with a basket of luscious mini baguettes studded with walnuts and cranberry.

A starter of pan-seared veal sweetbreads with guacamole and thick verjus demi sounds far-reaching but works, with a bright, minted pepper and apple salad to offset the richness.

Servers are attentive and well put together, but some are pushy. One night we were up-sold two portions of pricey though admittedly delectable “sword toro,” the fatty underside of the swordfish exquisitely prepped with an earthy blueberry-truffle dressing.

Salads including a perky, classic Caesar and a divinely composed chopped salad with a saffron vinaigrette.

A ceviche loaded with shrimp, crab, salmon, grouper and sea bass is a rare treat with a warming touch of cinnamon, its unusual plate made of Himalayan sea salt. See-through sheets of juicy beef curled like Christmas ribbons on a bed of petite arugula and dressed with a tarragon-tinged Dijon vinaigrette also make a refreshing starter.

Though heavy for this weather, zinfandel-braised oxtail is another winner, served with a pickled cabbage and celery pepper slaw that slashes through the richness like a well-honed cleaver.

My favorite dish is the sustainable sea bass from the South Georgia Islands off New Zealand. The silken and flaky white fish is gently seared and served over an ever-so-lightly truffle-scented risotto with bits of asparagus and earthy morels.

Seared until its skin is shatteringly crisp, the Scottish salmon is an exemplary version of an often-boring dish. A delectably smooth potato puree and young bok choy as fresh and green as just-mowed grass make perfect complements.

We also savored a chardonnay-braised osso bucco so tender and tasty that I had to order it on the next visit, too. It’s served alongside roasted purple potatoes, caramelized onions and slender, snappy haricot verts.

Desserts from a whimsical menu with items like “Challah If You Hear Me” and “A Berry Pleasant Evening” are expertly executed classics with a twist. My favorite, a rustic American apple tart, is dressed up with a cool, creamy bourbon sauce, house-made vanilla ice cream and a lacelike caramel tuile.

I look forward to trying more of Wahler’s confident cooking and enjoying more of Symcha’s happy hospitality.

If you go

Place: Symcha’s

Address: 22 Washington Ave., Miami Beach

Rating:★ ★ ★  1/2 (Excellent)

Contact: 305-604-0000, www.symchas.com

Hours: 6-11 p.m. daily, until midnight Friday and Saturday

Prices: Appetizers $12-$23, entrees $29-$54, sides $5-$11, dessert $10-$13

FYI: Walk-ins accepted; reservations available at opentable.com. Metered self-parking in front and rear; $10 valet Thursday-Sunday. Full bar. AX, DN, DS, MC, VS.

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