In some cities, vast, wine warehouse-bistros are as common as jammy merlots, but South Beach was notably lacking until friends Philippe Buchbinder and Jean-Luc Oizan Chapon opened Wine Depot & Bistro 555 in October.Patrons can dine inside the 7,000-square-foot-store or outdoors at marble-topped oak barrels or plop down at the stainless steel bar where a friendly bartender is as quick with a joke as a refill of gently cooled pinot noir. The clearly marked, geographically organized collection of bottles includes some 400 labels. France, of course, is well represented, from a 2007 Chateau Haut Beausejour from St. Estéphe ($26) to a 2001Chateau Cheval Blanc Premier Grand Cru from St. Émilion ($425). A trophy Opus One 2007 is $195, but most bottles are $10 to $30, with loads of New World offerings. There are plenty of $6-$8 by-the-glass options for those who want to sample (half-bottles would be a welcome addition). A dozen Provencal rosés and champagnes in regular and large-format bottles are perfect for our climate and the menu. Perhaps best of all—besides the free parking — is the sliding corkage: $7.50 for bottles under $30, $15 for pricier picks. The idea is that customers walk in, peruse the store and choose a bottle to have with their meal or take home. “Here all the restaurants are very traditional,” says Oizan Chapon, former COO of Club Med. “I wanted to do something more casual, more New Yorky.” A single-sided, laminated menu offers simple crostini and sandwiches including a well-executed croque monsieur, house-made foie gras terrines and patés, charcuterie samplers and an exceptional octopus provencal with thinly shaved fennel, dried tomatoes and olives. Perky shrimp sautéed in saffron-tinged butter with slivers of serrano ham and a simple pan con tomate we paired with tempranillo make a good showing for the Spanish. Most evenings, a friendly sommelier dispenses advice as he works his way through a stark, white, windowless space that grows prettier with each sip. Mixed greens are elevated in the Bistro salad by toasted crostini topped with warm crottin de chavignol, a deliciously nutty, hard-rind goat cheese that works beautifully with the light balsamic vinaigrette, sweet roasted tomatoes and candied baby onions. Speaking of cheese, more than a dozen well-tended international selections are served on various-size boards ($12-$20) with grapes, toasted walnuts and rustic, perfectly chewy French bread. If you’ve come for a meal, the way to go seems to be the blackboard specials. A fantastic plate of herb-encrusted halibut with curried couscous was a winner, as was a fine tuna tataki and, at lunch, roasted chicken shredded over lightly dressed greens. Desserts on one occasion included a fig tartlet with a crisp, buttery crust and a light dusting of sugar that was the finest I’ve sampled. Nutella mousse and an apple tart are satisfying if not life-changing. The personable owners are incredibly hospitable, but the young staff seems blasé. I begged my waitress for the check three times one night because of an urgent call from home, but still waited nearly 20 minutes. (“I forgot,” she mumbled.) On each visit, I have run into European friends who seem to have set up permanent camp. “Let’s just keep it a secret,” said one. I doubt we can do that for very long. This is one great neighborhood find.
If you go
Place: The Wine Depot & Bistro 555
Address: 555 Jefferson Ave., Miami Beach
Rating:★ ★ 1/2 (Good)
Contact: 305-672-6161, www.winedepotmiami.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-11 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Tapas: $6-$13, platters $12-$20, entrees $17-$22, dessert $8.
FYI: Free parking lot and metered street parking. Wine and beer only; corkage $7.50, $15 corkage. Reservations suggested. AX, DS, MC. VS.