Miami is full of restaurants with concepts and menus by big-name, out-of-town chefs. Eden boasts Christopher Lee, a James Beard Award winner whose credits include New York’s Michelin two-star Gilt and the exquisite Aureole.The space looks much as it did in its previous incarnation as Talula, with a long bar along the left and an open kitchen against the back, though a shiny new black and neon-green color scheme is as jarring as the loud club music that is played at night. Its best feature by far is the courtyard garden, where shaggy palms and clumps of chocolate mint and thyme create a feeling of escape. The small menu includes intriguing offerings like a Dungeness crab roll with macadamia nuts and passion fruit, but also the worst of trendy tourist fare. Do we really need more Wagyu sliders, fried calamari, fried dumplings and tuna tartare? Meals begin with a basket of flatbreads dusted with dried herbs and served with a tasty if thin crab dipping sauce. We sampled two entrees that worked beautifully in their simplicity. A silken Alaskan cod came with chopped edamame and shiitake mushrooms in a whisper-light broth with a hint of citrus. And a juicy New York strip steak with picture-perfect hatch marks was cooked, as ordered, medium-rare and served with gently creamed spinach and a mound of fingerling potatoes sliced into coins. Other dishes had way too much going on. Served with an aggressively smoky tomato cream sauce, so-called jerk-spiced fries were hot and tasty, but the strange, almost sweet dusting of herbs and flecks of cheese were unlike any jerk seasoning I’ve had in Jamaica. A retro dish if ever there is one, macadamia-encrusted salmon was pretty enough with its confetti of microgreens and flourish of lightly stir-fried red pepper ribbons in a creamy coconut broth, but the fish itself had a gamey, off flavor. A salad of field greens with beets and goat cheese was so heavily dressed with a sour sherry vinaigrette that more than a few bites had me puckering. Only an heirloom tomato salad celebrated local bounty. Tender, well-seasoned ringlets of fried calamari would have been a hit had they not been drenched in a curry-sesame sauce that rendered them limp. Hearty ravioli stuffed with apple and chestnut puree is an odd dish to serve in sunny Miami, and its butter-heavy sauce was too rich and thick to entice. Mayan prawns illustrated chef Lee’s “inspiration in abstract art” described on Eden’s website. The stark white plate was jazzed up as if Jackson Pollack had been at it, producing an unruly riot of flavors. The five knuckle-sized shrimp were overwhelmed by pools of orange, yellow, green, white and off-putting gray-green sauce dotted and swiped with artistic flourish. Desserts, too, combine too many disparate elements. A run-of-the-mill warm chocolate cake, for example, had dots of espresso cream and a monstrous scoop of mango sorbet set atop a mountain of crunchy chocolate crumb. The young and eager wait staff is heart-warming, and managers are trying hard to lure customers. We were given free drink tickets one evening and another time were encouraged to come back for movie night when sofas and free popcorn beckon. The vintageless wine list offers a range of portions and prices including a sip, a taste and — imagine — all you can drink. Somewhere between tourist trap and local hideaway, this odd eatery seems to be trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. The lack of local elements (or locals) makes me think it may not be around long enough for us to find out.
If you go
Place: Eden Restaurant & Lounge
Address: 210 23rd St., Miami Beach
Rating:★ ★ (OK)
Contact: 305-397-8760, www.edensouthbeach.com
Hours: 5-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, weekend brunch 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $6- $18, entrees $27-$39, dessert $8-$11
FYI: Plentiful street and metered parking; valet on weekends $15. Full bar, $25 corkage. AX, DN, MC, VS.