3 stars for exquisite French food at Villa Azur on South Beach

I admit I’m skeptical of actor-owned restaurants, but in the case of Villa Azur, where French heartthrob (and Halle Berry beau) Olivier Martinez is a partner, the injection of celebrity adds just the right accent. Though still in South Beach, this sexy newcomer is ever so slightly off the tourist path yet convenient enough to reach by foot or cab from anywhere on the Beach. Thanks to Nice native Mickael Bensa, the cooking is exquisite.

Ambience: When you walk into the grand marble foyer outfitted with antiques and creamy drapes, you are transported. This is European elegance translated to the tropics — posh but not pretentious. The ceilings are fitted with hand-carved molding, and only the too-wide wooden columns detract from the view. A cadre of professional waiters in well-fitted black pants and tailored button-downs does a fine job of serving the tables set with thick linen, simple silver and weighty crystal. There is a youthful, chic air about the place that keeps it from being, how do you say, obnoxious. Maybe it’s the kitschy, DJ-fueled soundtrack that veers from Michael Jackson’s Thriller-era hits to Terrence Trent D’arby and The Talking Heads. Or maybe it’s the lush patio, where leather sofas offer prime seating when the weather is dry.

What Worked

  • Nearly perfectly executed & presented steak tartare and Chateaubriand
  • Golden bread, crackling-crusted and airy toast points with anchovy butter or a mild olive tapenade
  • A sunny salad of tender asparagus spears, red pepper, eggplant and arugula showered with a confetti of chives and parsley 
  • Tender veal medallions layered between polenta rounds
  • Smoothly al dente penne with morels
  • Huge towers of icy, eye-candy raw-bar specialties
  • Crunchy, spicy and bitey thumb-size octopus in a beautifully Sicilian caponata (pictured)
  • Gorgeously seared tuna with a gentle soy dressing and creamy slivers of avocado
  • Stunningly grilled, firm and moist branzino with hatch-marked silver skin
  • Transporting bouillabaisse served in a deep black iron pot; packed with tender red snapper, pristine nickel-sized clams, meaty prawns; and smooth, tomato-based broth; and accompanied by lovely croutes a rich, saffron-scented rouille and just-shaved Gruyere
  • Irresistible black truffle macaroni and cheese
  • Textbook velvety Gratin Dauphinois
  • Wines for quaffers and connoisseurs, including a good selection of rosés like the simple Les Jolies Filles ($45)

What Didn’t Work

  • Less impressive desserts
  • A thick, box-shaped lemon meringue pie with too much crust for its tart filling
  • A more-carbon-than-caramel classic tart tatin served with a scoop of grainy almond-milk ice cream


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