At French bistros, I tend to fall for the crusty bread and salads that by some ancient alchemy are usually perfect. At Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne, it goes way beyond a carbs-and-greens crush.The new restaurant at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami had me swooning all the way to the warm, sugar-dusted madeleines. Young executive chef Jarrod Verbiak, who has worked under the D man for more than eight years, knows his stuff. Toasty golden cheese puffs – oversized gougéres with melted Gruyère and a throat-tickling dash of pepper – are like heavenly popovers, hollow in the middle but for a puff of steam. True to form, the salads are exceptional. The tuna crudo combines cubes of rose-fleshed fish, see-through slivers of cucumber and radish and a shower of crispy rice and sesame that adds to the gorgeous explosion of textures in each bite, enhanced by a daub of fiery harissa-sesame dressing. A warm potato salad tower is dotted with bits of newborn frisee, tiny parsley leaves and quartered radish for bite. The lobster salad is also worth a splurge for its mélange of fresh, fruity flavors and kicky pesto dressing. Lest anyone think this is a casual affair, the so-called bistro is about as formal a dining experience as can be had in this flip-flop-shod city by the sea. Diners are greeted by appellation and promptly seated in one several dining rooms with soaring ceilings, warm lighting and cozy booths. The crisply starched look with plush upholstery is more 1950s country club than cool. Maybe the discordant clang of techno music blasting from the speakers is meant to loosen things up. The young staff can range from blasé to overly attentive, especially if you happen to be the restaurant critic for the local paper and get outed. We wondered throughout one three-hour meal why the staff was so solicitous; then we saw our bill, labeled in bold letters “VICTORIA CRITIC.” Still, on my previous (presumably anonymous) visits, I dined exquisitely. With few exceptions, the dishes – more bistro classics than modern creations – are brilliantly executed. Starters can be as light as a lettuce vichyssoise or as rich as ricotta cavatelli in a creamy, almond-based sauce studded with crisp bits of pork belly and roasted orange pumpkin touched with sage. Speaking of rich, the duck confit exceeds the best I have had. A fist-sized leg encased in crackling skin the color of burnt umber is topped with wispy coins of fried potatoes alongside impossibly green, creamed spinach and an earthy sauce forestiere with hunky wild mushrooms. A comfort dish if ever there was one, coq au vin in brick-dark wine sauce with baby pearl onions and lusciously crisped-edged lardons is another must try. Seafood is also uniformly excellent. Two simple pompano fillets are coated in buttered bread as thin as pan de miga, gently sautéed and served with a parsley sauce as bright as an Irish countryside. It’s impossible not to try the original high-end burger, the deliciously decadent, $32 db. The thick patty of ground sirloin is stuffed with shredded, braised short-rib meat and a dollop of foie gras with black truffle bits and served with hot, salty, perfectly skinny frites. The only dish that was better on the page then the plate was an unwieldy tomato tart layered so thickly with sweet and acidic confit that eating more than a bite was a chore. The impressive and democratic French and South American wine list works beautifully with the food, as does a surprising nonalcoholic cocktail selection. Talented pastry chef Jerome Maure’s inviting finales include lots with tropical fruits, but the nicest nod to Miami tastes is the coupe dulce de leche, a foamy chocolate confection dotted with macadamia nuts, fudgy hot chocolate sauce, coffee ice cream and rich caramel. After hours of sumptuous dining, I decided the food here is the kind that sets off quivers, not fireworks. Some work on the setting, music and service could make db Bistro Moderne Miami’s finest restaurant.
If you go
Place: db Bistro Moderne
Address: 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami.
Rating: 3.5 stars (Excellent)
Contact: 305-421-8800, danielnyc.com
Hours: noon-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday, noon-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Appetizers: $14-24, entrees $26-$45, sides $8, dessert $9-$12
F.Y.I.: Valet parking $5 at lunch, $10-$12 at dinner with validation. Full bar, no outside bottles allowed. Reservations suggested; available at opentable.com. AX, DS, DC, MC. VS.