“Welcome to Tom Colicchio’s first seafood restaurant,” an ebullient waiter greeted us on a recent Saturday night at Beachcraft, the new outpost at 1 Hotel & Homes in Miami Beach from the Top Chef head judge and New York restaurateur.
Beachcraft shares the same eco-conscious luxe feel as the hotel, all organic cotton and botanical musk. The food, likewise, focuses on sustainable seafood and produce, most of which is composed as small plates that average about $18, with outliers like a $210 raw-bar tower or $11 for an order of cheesy, creamy chorizo croquette balls.
You’re not going to find Colicchio cooking (the couple celebrating a birthday at the table next to us was crushed at the news). But executive chef Michael Fiorello, a South Florida native, adeptly handles the job at Beachcraft while simultaneously overseeing Colicchio’s other menus at the property.
There are dishes that you can envision Colicchio eating on Top Chef, slowly nodding his head as his somber face opens into a smirk: “This really works.”
Like calamari, cooked tender and served cold with beautiful green and yellow garbanzos, the fruity heat of Fresno chiles playing off the sweet-sour notes of preserved lemon. And mullet tiradito — an outstanding take on the trendy Peruvian raw-fish preparation, here using the Florida fish’s firm texture to add a complementary layer to clean cucumber and tart sorrel.
From the raw-bar options, razor clams are presented on two open half-shells, sliced with olive oil and garlic; simple and appetizing. Fresh pastas are across-the-board successful, including agnolotti filled with white-bean puree and served with smoky clams and silky pork shoulder.
The kitchen sent a $27 bowl of bucatini to apologize for running out of a $12 order of mushrooms; in Monopoly terms, a bank error in our favor. The spaghetti-like pasta is tossed with a sea-urchin butter, generous amounts of peekytoe crab meat and enough jalapeño to take the heat to Level 6 out of 10.
Though nothing nears pack-your-knives-and-go territory, some dishes are expensive head-scratchers. A $16 salad of weedy, tangly purslane with watermelon balls, bacon and a buttermilk dressing didn’t work for anyone at our table. A $15 plate of organic carrot ribbons, purple cauliflower, quinoa and tarragon was overtaken by an aggressively salty mustard vinaigrette plus (I’m guessing) added seasoning.
Seasonally appropriate escarole leaves are grilled to a smoky savoriness and paired with a caper-parmesan aioli reminiscent of a Caesar dressing. But large rounds of fatty, tepid porchetta overpower the nuance.
While the last few items on the menu are pitched as larger-size entrees, a $27 piece of turbot could have fit in a box of playing cards. I loved the small accompaniment of fresh peas and new turnips that came with it; I was disappointed in the smear of black garlic that tasted like balsamic vinegar.
The dining-room decor is elegant in its beachy simplicity. But the restaurant’s odd layout puts most diners far away from the open-kitchen action, and the outdoor tables are right on Collins Avenue — not exactly sandy serenity.
Service veers from thorough and chatty-friendly (“Were you guys talking about Game of Thrones?”) on a slow Wednesday to distracted and messy on a busy Saturday. Free house-filtered still and sparkling water — nice touch! — are poured interchangeably in the same glasses — bummer. You’re asked to make room for incoming plates. The couple at a nearby table leaves because no one’s come to serve them.
Beachcraft has beverages for all tastes and budgets. To the sustainability end, some wines are kegged (the Acrobat Rosé from Oregon is $9 a glass and great with this food) and others donate sales to whale-preservation efforts.
For dessert, a “thousand-layer” doughnut with Key lime curd and sugary crumbles seems to encapsulate a South Florida sense of place within a bigger food trend.
I wish Beachcraft gave more reasons like that to return and spent less time playing it safe. On a return visit, the mullet tiradito was replaced with hamachi, and the purslane was scrubbed for kale. I’m sure it had to do with what was available from purveyors. But mullet and purslane we don’t see on menus all over town; hamachi and kale we do.
Colicchio’s first seafood restaurant has potential, perhaps with a few more visits from its captain, to be a beacon of light in Miami’s celebrity-chef ocean. Until then, it may only be a day at the beach for the yacht owners among us.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense.