2.5 stars for South Beach’s casual-chic Semilla

What you see is what you get at Semilla Eatery & Bar. From the fresh herbs growing in terracotta pots suspended from one wall to the steaks that sizzle on an open griddle in the middle of the room, the 3-month-old South Beach eatery is out and proud with its food prep and ingredients. A select cast of creative small plates and a few large entrees make this a casual chic spot primarily for sharing and pairing. The extensive drinks menu outweighs the dinner choices, with craft beers and creative cocktails made with beets, blackberries, tarragon leaves and other herbalicious combinations.

The simple fare is a departure for chef-owner Frederic Joulin, who served up high-end French-American food at the short-lived Villa Mayfair in Coconut Grove. The classically trained Parisian chef, a one-time personal chef to French President Jacques Chirac, excels at striking a balance between letting natural flavors sing and matchmaking Mother Nature’s flavors in complex sauces.

Ambience: There’s a French seaside vibe emanating from the light wood, burlap table runners, large, hanging mirrors and upholstered banquette. A steel-topped, L-shaped bar with a teppanyaki-style cook station in the middle commands the large room. Happy-hour diners get the best deal here nightly, with local draft beers, cocktails and select tapas dishes $6 from 6 to 8 p.m.

What Worked

  • Tableside, complimentary crusty French bread slices, delivered with olive oil and pink salt that give a warm first impression
  • Friendly, smart servers
  • Free parking in the back – a luxury on Alton Road, which is undergoing heavy construction
  • Excellent Blue Pointe Virginia oysters served with two zesty contrasting sauces
  • Salmon and avocado tartar – a vibrant orange stack of delicate fish cubes and creamy avocado chunks with julienned fried pot-sticker dough adding crunch
  • Salty and crunchy lightly battered fish and chips made with American sole and a traditional tartar sauce
  • House-made potato chips
  • Juicy and smoky tenderloin beef barbecue skewers that become divine with dipped into a tall bowl of accompanying spicy-sweet soy sauce
  • Simple & light desserts like crumbly apple tart and fresh berries soaked in Grey Goose vodka


What Didn’t Work

  • Heavy & chewy braised beef short-rib pot stickers with green curry
  • Extremely fatty & rare rack of lamb with pimiento crust that lacked flavor
  • Lackluster scallops presented on pillows of barely mashed potatoes with green onion and tarragon butter
  • Disappointing Florida red snapper with lemon caperd – yhinly sliced potatoes made a fine crust couldn’t mask the flat, frozen quality of the fish
  • Brussels sprouts fried in tempura batter and bok choy with bacon crumble that had their snappiness reduced by overwhelming sauces
  • Awkward seating – hard, stiff banquettes and wooden high-back chairs that are lovely to look at, but a tad too high andsquare, wood tables that are slightly low