Five and half million dollars was spent to open Lippi restaurant on Brickell Avenue. Though the place is named for the Florentine painter Filippo Lippi, the cuisine is all over the map, and start-up costs included trips to Europe for chef Philippe Ruiz to sample favorite dishes of owner Tuni Puri (partner in the ultra-luxe downtown Zuma). The results are, for the most part, pretty spectacular, if a little confusing and expensive.
Ruiz, who made his Miami name at the Biltmore’s Palme d’Or, has organized the menu oddly. A mix of traditional starters and crudos is followed by “other temptations,” which waiters describe as “more like main courses.” It’s called “a New American Dining experience” but “with a Mediterranean flair.” Yet the menu also borrows from Mexico, Peru and even China and Japan.
The small-plate sharing concept with some 70 items goes a bit awry when dishes that would work as sides, like the nutty, Parmigiano-topped farro, arrives 15 minutes before the proteins.
But first, you will are greeted by name at the hostess station by a team of pretty, well-trained people. Once seated, diners are meant to be greeted by hot puffs of gougéres filled with béchamel and Gruyére, though sometimes they arrive well after other plates have begun to land — and sometimes they’re not so hot.
Despite the lavish budget, Lippi is not all flash. In fact, it looks a bit like a bank vault but with some flair. Two-story walls of windows are hung with shimmering gold draperies. Marble floors sparkle beneath low-hung wrought-iron chandeliers that frankly look as if they came from Home Depot. Though the walnut chairs and butterscotch velvet booths are romantic, my favorite seats are on the wraparound terrace.
Servers dressed in ninja black try to make sense of the menu by suggesting lots of popular dishes. Most are small, so plan to order quite a few.
Favorites included an octopus causa with six little tentacles propped on cubes of mashed purple potato that make for deliciously fun finger food that explodes with flavor from of jalapeño relish and ají panca (a hot, red Peruvian chile) and creamy olive tapenade.
Truffled eggs blew us away with their simplicity. Loaded with wild mushrooms and bits of black truffle, the glossy, just-scrambled eggs arrive in a pretty glass globe cocked on a wooden board. The buttery richness and fresh earthy flavors is an indulgence everyone ought to experience.
The uniformly excellent salads include see-through sheets of fennel with orange segments and pomegranate seeds dressed in a minty vinaigrette — a colorful, crunchy break from the dizzying array of rich international flavors. The langoustine a la plancha doused in Tajín, a Mexican seasoning blend with lime and chiles, was right on, its stingy, pinky-sized portion seemed downright silly. A similarly salty, tangy, dried spice blend adds incredible zing to a gorgeously seared piece of tender filet mignon served with a roasted head of garlic.
The flaky fillet of cod is perfection in its Basque-inspired, bright orange tomato and pepper sauce and a touch of sour cranberry chutney sprinkled with sunflower seeds. The sea bream with tomato and lemon confit is equally alluring. Salty, caramelized baby artichoke hearts arrive in a baby cast-iron skillet with a bold shallot confit. Unexpected but fantastic are the airy tempura-battered shrimp served in a soy dipping sauce with sweet pepper ringlets and a shower of snappy microgreens.
Minor gripes include a dated, so-called lobster ravioli in stiff wonton skins topped with pink lobster bisque foam that seemed like something you would try at home if you got an ISI canister and nitrous oxide cartridges for Christmas.
Pastry chef Sarah Thompson does a fine, fun job of creating bites like her “cannoli,” a finely shaved pineapple slice tightly wrapped around a creamy coconut tapioca on a scoop of citrusy, minty granite. A classic soufflé that puffs even higher than the bill gets more indulgent with a crème anglaise sauce spiked with Grand Marnier.
An impressive wine list includes lots of New and Old World selections with a particular strength in French burgundies.
Tables are set with fresh exotic flowers, plates are designed to showcase stunning presentations and linens are luxe, yet stainless steel utensils with jagged edges remind me of a school cafeteria.
Once it smooths its rough edges, Lippi could easily become one of Miami’s top fine-dining destinations. I look forward to returning in order to taste the exceptional cooking that Ruiz turns out along the way.