Nestled a stone’s throw from the Miami Beach Convention Center, the 3-month-old Vintro Hotel & Kitchen will be in the thick of things when Art Basel crowds invade town next week.
The 50-room boutique will be near capacity through the fair, and the hotel’s shotgun-style, indoor/outdoor restaurant with an open kitchen and a framed Mona Lisa fashioned from coffee pods will be, too.
I hope Vintro Kitchen is prepared for the action. That is, more prepared than it was on recent evenings, when the kitchen ran out of some menu items and executed others quite poorly.
The game of roulette begins with bread service — stale, with a ramekin of marinated olives but without butter or olive oil — which a server brings automatically but that’s listed on the menu as costing $3. The passive-aggressive among us (hi.) spend the rest of the meal worrying if that will wind up on the bill, ready to speak up if it does. It does not, thank goodness.
Cold appetizers come out fast, like, we-just-pulled-this-from-the-refrigerator fast, evidenced by a thick-skinned, creamless blob of burrata centered among chilly tomato wedges.
On the other hand, a daily raw-fish preparation of cobia tiradito with coconut milk and scallions was a home run of complementary and contrasting flavors and textures, starring fresh, local catch. No surprise that executive chef Keith Suarino came to Miami Beach from New York’s Eataly, where he led the Italian market’s seafood restaurant, Il Pesce.
Several dishes from the Hot Off La Plancha portion of the menu arrived many degrees below hot, and many minutes after the cold starters had been finished. Gorgeously seared sea scallops and a separate plate of grilled octopus landed on our table tepid, their temperature detracting from the experience.
Orzo with goat cheese and spinach, however, was piping hot, a welcome and flavorful change of pace from the usual mac-and-cheese side. It’s served in a huge, family-style portion for $18. A $19 bowl of black rice and sparse, underseasoned mushrooms is equally massive. Both dishes would benefit from being scaled down in price and size.
Inconsistencies carry over to entrees. A terrifically tender hanger steak was cooked spot-on medium-rare and served with a pleasantly acidic salsa verde. A beyond-hammered duo of lamb and pork chops (“Game & Swine”) came presliced by the kitchen — no one noticed how overcooked they were?
We bit on a verbal special of lobster risotto, wanting to explore more of Suarino’s ways with seafood. The server who had so gleefully talked up the dish soon solemnly returned to say the kitchen had run out of lobster.
No problem, we chirped. We’ll have the chicken!
Out of that, too, server shrugged.
The beverage selection showed similar signs of anemia. I asked for a Lagunitas IPA, one of a few craft beers on a short list, and was told only Corona and Heineken were available. Want a bottle of white wine? There are precisely two options (and one rosé).
Vintro Kitchen, I’ve been told, has expanded its wine list since my visits this month. That’s a step in the right direction for a restaurant with a hip decor and a talented chef who has some hits on his hands and some kinks to work out.
Art Basel may be Vintro’s big chance to shine. Its canvas is primed and ready; the test is whether it can apply its paint more evenly — and not run out.
Evan S. Benn is the Miami Herald food editor and Miami.com restaurants editor. Follow him on Twitter: @EvanBenn.