His name may not be well-known outside the industry, but chef Kal Abdalla has been cooking haute cuisine for this town’s tanned and toned for more than 30 years. Best known for his two decades at the landmark Forge, he jumped in 2005 to the spectacularly popular Prezzo, an Aventura hot spot that soon succumbed to management issues. Abdalla disappeared from view for a while, but in May owner Don Glassie of the classy Avalon Hotel came knocking. Back into the South Beach scene, Abdalla is now general manager as well as executive chef of the Ocean Drive hotel’s beloved A Fish Called Avalon.
Abdalla is working to smooth the staff’s rough edges, but his kitchen skills clearly need no honing. They are evident in the near-perfect geometry of his diced veggies, the confident balance of sweet and spice, the stunningly composed plates and the vast repertoire of expertly executed sauces. At a seaside restaurant with “fish” in its quirky name, you would expect polished seafood dishes, and Chef Kal delivers.
Ambience: The dining room’s polished terrazzo floors, potted palms, low lighting and stark tableware cast a glow of Deco-era glamour, but the wide outdoor terrace, away from the hubbub but still lively, is the place to be.
- Bang Bang Shrimp – four meaty, sautéed, jumbo specimens in a tangy mint and buttery brown sugar-spiked sauce with a colorful dose of curry over a bright-as-sunrise cucumber and pepper slaw
- Shrimp and grits brightened by charred tomatoes, spongy manouri cheese and fresh basil, lemon and avocado
- Escargot treated with a perky parsley sauce with loads of garlic & served over tender-firm baby gnocchi
- Photo-ready scallops seared the color of toasted caramel and served with Brussels sprout leaves, crispy pancetta, candied ginger and grapefruit smiles in a citrussy beurre blanc
- Glisteningly fresh whole branzino cooked to delicate perfection
- Steaks offered with rich green peppercorn-cognac or fiery Caribbean spiced horseradish sauce Lush cheesecake with blackberries
- Crème brulee given extra zing by grilled mango and pineapple salsa
- A decent, moderately marked up wine list including some notable French burgundies and New World finds
What Didn’t Work
- A seafood risotto with all the right elements (tasty shrimp, scallops, mussels, squid, plump arborio rice) but was marred by firm-as-crudite carrots and a spoiled-cheese taste
- Creamy fettuccine mistakenly dubbed carbonara
- The obligatory Ocean Drive 18 percent tip, expensive valet parking and seedy streetscape