Every season has one, and this year it’s Seasalt and Pepper. Pretty, smart, rich and sexy, she showed up in the wrong part of town at just the right moment.
And though some find her a bit snobby, she is charming the social somebodies. Especially the mine-is-bigger-than-yours set who dock their yachts at the edge of the Miami River downtown and enjoy fine dining — for a price. To be precise: $1 per foot per hour.
A gaggle of tightly dressed and well-coiffed hostesses is quick to look up reservations and usher patrons to seats. However, guests start stacking up at the bar after 7 p.m., because people tend to not want to leave once they’ve nabbed a table.
The converted airplane hanger has been gorgeously designed. It’s airy and light with a nautical theme. The linen-wrapped chairs and blond wooden tables are a bit close together but the better to share spring-skiing tips. Vintage terrazzo floors, grainy woods, hanging clusters of wicker lampshades, metal fish sculptures and paddle fans contribute to the casually opulent, St. Tropez feel.
But this hotspot along the sketchy edge of the Miami River is more than another pretty face. The menu is not your usual hand-me-down, either. In fact, it’s a unique blend of classics — think lobster thermidor — and unique finds like assorted seafood tartares with avocado fries and sorbet.
Not everything works, but dishes are thoughtfully composed of beautiful ingredients.
The wine list is a well-curated array of American, French, Italian and Spanish bottles that works well. However, listing the vintages on the menu would make sense, especially when bottles reach into the $200 and $300 range. A sweet-tart, strawberryish Chateau la Tour de L’Eveque rosé is a great find. But so are sophisticated cocktails muddled tableside.
Pastas are well executed, including a delicately wrapped pear-and-Gorgonzola ravioli dotted with flecks of black truffle in a smooth and subtle cream sauce. An indulgent lobster risotto is cooked with a proper bite and plenty of succulent claw meat, chives and snappy peas.
Salads are also large, fresh and as beautifully put together as the place itself. Shreds of moist white meat play nicely with Kalamata olives and toasted almond slivers in a crab salad. True, the tomatoes were plastic-ey, but I’d order it again today.
Ratatouille is a hearty choice for vegetarians with its melty, tomato-bathed eggplant, peppers and squash given depth from mellow, long-cooked garlic and onion.
Seafood lovers are especially rewarded. Stews, fillets, raw bar options and items like octopus and shrimp on the plancha are uniformly good.
An unexpected trophy is sea bass roasted with a layer truffle mushroom pâté. The white, flaky flesh is grounded by an earthy-brown, blistering crust that isn’t pretty but is awfully delicious, especially over rounds of puffy, baked potatoes.
Long Island clams are served in a hot casserole given life by tiny, sweet tomatoes, white wine, nutmeg and a no-kidding dose of jalapeño.
Disappointments include an overly creamy stew of Vidalia onion, tiny shrimp and a waiter who perhaps forgot that the menu said it was to be flambéed in cognac.
On our first visit we were charmed by an irresistible puff of bread showered with crystalline shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh twigs of thyme. But on our second, we watched servers deliver loaves to everyone but us.
On the whole, servers seem knowledgeable, friendly and trained. But the runners and bussers scurried around like water rats not knowing where to put the hot plates as they grew cold.
The end of a fun (and pricey) date should be sealed with a sweet kiss. Unfortunately, our Key lime pie had about as much appeal as a jar of school paste.
For all her foibles, however, this sultry newcomer is a definite asset to the social scene.
Is it love at first sight? Not exactly. But I do think we’ll be very good friends.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense. Follow @MiamiHeraldFood on Twitter.