Memorable views, mostly forgettable food at Fresh American Bistro

It’s daunting to maneuver your car up the impossibly steep, narrow driveway to Sole on the Ocean hotel in Sunny Isles Beach and climb the vertigo-inducing lobby staircase to Fresh American Bistro. Those who make it are greeted by an azure-blue view of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Fresh American Bistro, or F.A.B., wisely plays up Sunny Isles’ best attribute. White Bahamian shutters, a sea of rattan ball ceiling lights, repurposed wood tables and a red surfboard give the 90-seat restaurant a chic, beach-casual vibe.

Indoor-outdoor seating extends to a thin balcony overlooking the pool and beach. Executive chef Philippe Ruiz (formerly of Biltmore Hotel’s Palme d’Or and the now-closed Lippi in Brickell) keeps the focus on the ocean in a one-page, seafood-centric menu, with eight of nine starters coming from the sea. 

We fell victim to the salty spell and ordered from a short list of fruity, frivolous cocktails, which was a mistake. Served in beer glasses, our “liquid assets” were cloying and flat, better suited for a Spring Break pool party than a trendy condo-hotel for grown-ups. 

Complimentary round herb bread, served warm on a cutting board with black olive tapenade and sundried tomato spread, tried to make up with us, but the undercooked middle failed in the attempt. 

Passing up traditional stone crabs, oysters and snapper ceviche from among “fresh bar” starters, we opted for an Asian-Italian spin on ahi tuna, which was wrapped cannelloni-style in thin, fried strips of zucchini and eggplant. The appetizer was served over spicy tomato and basil coulis, and topped with yellow nasturtium and microgreens, but mushy tuna in the middle turned inventive to ick. 

After a long wait — a neighboring table was accidentally served our other starter — a delightful Maine scallop and crab tartare mold, with mango relish and green tomato coulis, got us back on track.

Redemption continued with a delicate Florida hog snapper filet, lightly sautéed and piled atop a stew of squash, peppers and other vegetables, with a creamy basil beurre blanc.

Grouper, shrimp and seafood risotto dominate other dinner entrée choices, and salads and little pizzas offer lighter alternatives. 

Meat lovers can pick from four beef and duck dishes. Finding our land legs, however, proved difficult. Billed as a 14-ounce, bone-in New York steak, our grilled strip came boneless and, as a result, not as succulent as we had hoped. It was topped by an overpowering blob of tomato-based herb butter that obscured the meat.

Service, while friendly, was inexperienced and overwhelmed, even by just a few tables. Our steak sat cooling in the wind off the patio for five minutes before a knife appeared. Cream for coffee took even longer. 

Ruiz was nowhere in sight, and staff struggled to recall his name. 

Beach viewing and dining is better by day. A lunchtime tagliatelle salad of thin zucchini strips, with oil and balsamic vinegar, black olives, herbs, and wedges of cucumbers and tomatoes, was a refreshing treat.

Grilled grouper, topped by a relish of finely-chopped tomatoes, red onions and peppers, was moist and sweet, with a crisp, thin crust on the outside: by far F.A.B.’s best dish.

Flatbreads were less impressive, with thin, tart tomato sauce and excessive mozzarella. Pulled pork shoulder on one flatbread was dry and hard.

Open since January, F.A.B. vowed not to be a typical hotel restaurant. If it wants to live up to that promise and keep coaxing diners up Sole’s steep drive, the bistro needs to work harder and rely less on its view. 

Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense.