Pulsating dance music and leggy hostesses in pseudo-Playboy bunny attire usually don’t translate into a fine dining experience, but ultra-swank Bâoli has two things going for it: Chef Gustavo Vertone and an enchanting hidden courtyard that makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon The Secret Garden. Shade trees strung with sparkling lights and dainty chandeliers create a canopy over the patio. A long outdoor bar backed by a built-in white bookcase lends an old beach-town vibe. Waiters in suspenders and crisp white shirts work the tables, with a 15-foot shrub creating privacy at the far end.
Raised in Buenos Aires, Vertone, 34, attended Gato Dumas’ culinary school in Venezuela and expanded his knowledge by working in his Italian father’s family restaurants in Italy. The Bâoli group, which runs a trendy club-restaurant by the same name in Cannes, scooped him up and trained him further in France before sending him to South Beach as part of a management shift last year that turned Vita by Bâoli into simply Bâoli. Smart move.
Even with their sophisticated presentations, Vertone’s rustic dishes taste as if they’ve emerged from some ancient oven in a seaside village. Exorbitant prices aside, the succinct menu presents a thoughtful assortment of Mediterranean-inspired dishes, with a heavy presence of foie gras, truffles and roasted garlic. Whole rosemary sprigs, bay leaves and basil adorn hot cast-iron serving dishes, setting off fresh herb aromas.
Ambience: Such restrained charm on South Beach doesn’t come easy. To get there, you must walk down a long, narrow hallway lined with star-gazer photos and pass by the trendy lounge on the left. With its banquettes, occasional complimentary shots and theme nights like Wednesday’s “My Boyfriend is Out of Town,” the interior caters more to bachelorette parties than serious diners. Fortunately, the glass doors separating the club-restaurant from the rear patio are mercifully thick. Only the occasional strobe flash and burst of DJ music through an opened door are reminders that people are gyrating in earnest on the other side.
- The complimentary basket of warm white bread and rolls with a tri-plate of soft herbed butter, roasted tomatoes and black olive tapenade
- Roasted beet salad with chopped red and sliced yellow beets, a bale of crisp mache, French green beans, blanched leeks, blue cheese, dabs of balsamic dressing and creamy emulsified beet juice encircling the plate
- Salty, buttery pan-seared scallops with baby zucchini, carrots, red bell pepper and asparagus
- An “old family recipe bouillabaisse of clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, sea bass, salmon, calamari and a cover of crispy focaccia
- Deceptively simple, flavorful and hulking 18-ounce boneless Angus ribeye steak with a salt-herb rub and red wine sauce Salty and hot duck fat fries – thick, toasty wedges with meltingly soft interiors
- A 10-ounce grilled skirt steak cooked as ordered (pink in the middle), curled into a roll and served with snappy chimichurri sauce
What Didn’t Work
- Merely respectable artichoke and lobster salad that verged on bland
- Handmade ricotta and spinach ravioli that failed to wow
- Disappointing service – overly attentive upon arrival, but an abrupt turnaround once a large party appeared
- Ho-hum warm chocolate fondant
- An 18 percent service charge built into the steep bill