By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Like the new girl in school who slips to the back of the classroom unnoticed, Canyon Ranch Grill tiptoed onto the Miami Beach dining scene in December amid the glitz of gazillion-dollar hotel, restaurant and club openings. Although this pretty, smart and talented new kid hasn’t yet joined the popular crowd, it should only be a matter of time.
The Scene: Located on the site of the old Carillon Hotel, the monolithic block of white stone is warmed inside by tropical blooms, wood and water accents and the sincere welcome of crisply uniformed doormen and hostesses. The dining room is done in pumpkin and brown tones with driftwood batons and polished stone disks suspended from the ceiling like an Oriental screen. The exhibition kitchen is oddly framed in faux brick that seems more appropriate to a grade B ski lodge, but the overall effect is calming. Servers are friendly but not always knowledgeable about the menu.
The vibe: Chef Alex Asteinza, a New York native with Cuban roots, brings more than a decade of experience and an obvious passion to the kitchen. The menu displays calorie, carb, protein and fat counts for each dish for a weight-conscious target audience. Sadly, markups on the wine list high at three to four times retail.
Order this: Especially recommended dishes include a tasty roulade starter. Packets of scorched poblano peppers are rolled around a delicious combination of diced fresh shrimp and savory goat cheese. Toasty pumpkin seeds add earthy texture. All the tiraditos and marinated fish dishes we sampled were superb. A large fillet of local snapper is wrapped in salty duck prosciutto that does the job of well-cured bacon, lending salty, smoky bite to the tender fish, served over a comforting hash of corn and tomato. Black bass in a chai broth with a m’lange of Indian spices is a riot in the mouth. But it is the snappy shrimp in a Thai ceviche with pomelo juice, cilantro, crunchy jicama and a fiery hit of bird chile that I would come back for again and again.
Missed the mark: The disappointingly flabby fries, made of artichoke, might have been better if they had made it to the table hot. The cauliflower three ways with a kicky puttanesca sauce and “couscous” made from the scorched tips of the vegetable was more intellectually stimulating than satisfying.
Canyon Ranch Grill at Canyon Ranch Living, 6801 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-514-7474. Hours: 7-10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 6-11 p.m. daily. Appetizers $8-$14, entrees $22-$29, desserts $6-$10.
FYI: Full bar; corkage $15. Valet parking $15; metered street parking free after 6 p.m. across the street. AX, MC, VS.