First Look: Downtown gets a dose of Caribbean flavors at Zest

Pork Tomahawk Chop at Zest (Contributed)

The who: Culinary trailblazer Cindy Hutson, of the famed Coral Gables Miracle Mile restaurant Ortanique, opens her first downtown spot along with her business- and life-partner Delius Shirley. Chef de cuisine Mike Fischetti helms the kitchen.

The space: On the lobby level of the Southeast Financial Center, the indoor-outdoor space features a massive outdoor courtyard with live music Wednesdays through Saturday evenings. Indoors the dining room is cozy and outfitted in a palate of green, copper and orange.

The dishes: Hutson’s “Cuisine of the Sun,” which is Caribbean-influenced but also possesses Asian and Latin American influences. Prices are on par with celeb-chef eateries with starters ranging $14-$22 and mains $24 – $52.
A basket of “crack” bread — toasted baguette generously smothered in herbed butter — comes to the table upon request. Then it’s on to bright salads, such as Norma’s Terrace Salad made with papaya, hearts of palm, grapefruit segments and spiced pecans. The mango and burrata salad exemplifies Huston’s knack for local flavors with slices of mango fanned out over fresh heirloom tomatoes and arugula dressed with both pepper vinaigrette and toasted chopped macadamia nuts before it is finished with a sorrel flower glaze. Jerk wings are cooked in the wood-burning oven, as are flat breads and the smoked fish dip, based on the daily catch, that is spiced with “woo sauce” (Scotch bonnet peppers, carrots, and vinegar and comes with plantain chips).

Large plates include a cobia perched atop coconut-Scotch bonnet jasmine rice and a massive Niman Ranch Pork Tomahawk Chop with yucca cake, sauteed escarole and passionfruit chimichurri.
Sweet endings include red velvet whoopie pies with chocolate dipping sauce, guava cheesecake and ice creams in flavors such as salted caramel.
Bottom Line: Downtown gets a dose of Hutson’s Caribbean hospitality with this bright newcomer.