The food at 27 Restaurant & Bar flashes with flavors and inspiration from the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East; the decor is Old Florida Americana; the music is salsa and reggae and ’90s hip-hop.
It is easily the most Miami restaurant in greater Miami. And it is one of the very best.
Open since November in a restored 1930s house at 2727 Indian Creek Dr., in Miami Beach, 27 shares the block with Freehand, the upscale hostel from Sydell Group, and Broken Shaker, the James Beard-nominated cocktail oasis from Bar Lab duo Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi. The parking and valet situation can be tenuous, and the drinks go down easier than you expect. Better to Uber it.
The menu invites sharing, as do communal dining-room tables and a cozy counter overlooking the Shaker’s patio. Start with home-style small plates like Jewish latkes, topped with dollops of housemade sour cream and a relish made with mint, shallots and diced green apples that have been brined in apple cider vinegar mulled with cinnamon and clove. It’s a brilliant and fun take on latkes’ traditional applesauce accoutrement.
Each component of griot and pikliz, a Haitian dish of braised-then-fried cubes of pork shoulder and a spicy slaw, is flavorful on its own, and combining them is explosive. The crunch and habanero heat of the slaw punches up the unctuousness of crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside pork; a just-right amount of cilantro in the pikliz comes through at the end to cool things down.
From local waters and soil come daily-changing crudo and vegetable plates. Fresh slivers of red grouper are bathed in the prickly acidity of a tomatillo-and-sorrel gazpacho, and a few kernels of popped corn keep the texture interesting. A plate of newly plucked lettuces — mizuna, arugula, baby kale — from Miami’s Little River Cooperative tossed with a simple, herb-flecked dressing and garnished with sweet strawberries and colorful nasturtiums makes me happier than any salad in recent memory.
A team approach to service leaves you feeling attended to even when the 60-some seat restaurant is at its busiest. When your server is tied up, bussers and other waiters instinctively fill water cups and take drink orders. When managers and hostesses drop by to check on you, you get the sense that they’re genuinely invested and not making a perfunctory fly-by. Don’t be fooled by their tattoos and trucker hats and peasant skirts: This front-of-house staff is as professional and on-the-ball as any in the game.
Bigger dishes are similarly enjoyable to the smaller ones, although solo and couple diners will find more variety and value in the latter. (Speaking of value: 27 has ticked up its pricing by $1 to $4 on many dishes since opening; as of this week, its web menu reflects outdated prices.)
Creamy, warming coconut-curry broth is a comforting companion to the flaky white flesh of golden tilefish. The depth of savory, earthy and herbal flavors in long-stewed, Cuban-style oxtail with buttery rice is comparable to that of a complex Mexican mole.
Attention to detail extends to housemade condiments like a smoked pineapple-habanero hot sauce, a patatas bravas aioli for fries (27’s half-pound burger on brioche shouldn’t be ignored), and Michelada Salsa — a witch’s brew of umami that lists as ingredients Worcestershire, fish sauce, smoked salt and sesame oil.
Missteps on my visits were limited to falafel that were properly crunchy on the outside but gummy and undercooked inside. Latkes also could have benefited from more time mingling in hot oil; the exterior potato shreds were golden-brown and crisp, but the interior taters had an al dente bite.
Nothing that can’t be forgiven with a gooey chocolate brownie and boozy, bourbon-soaked cherries. Pair that with an Up in Smoke: smoked strawberries muddled with rye whiskey and a bitter-orange Italian digestif that’s ripe with vanilla and citrus, oak and smoke.
Despite creating food and drinks that have the ability to wildly please a range of palates, 27 is not for everyone. Those who demand that restaurants have parking lots and take reservations and maintain low decibel levels might want to look elsewhere.
For the rest of us, 27 is one of the most exciting newcomers to show up on South Florida’s culinary map in some time. Its dining room reflects a sense of place that’s rare among Miami’s glitz and glam, and its cooking shows a local commitment that’s often reduced to empty buzzwords. Eating here is pure Miami, pure joy.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Evan S. Benn on Twitter: @EvanBenn.