By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Diners once again line up at Cooper’s, which used to be the bustling spot known as Flamingo Restaurant, but this time they get clean, modern cooking with their hospitality. Despite the sleek look, it's a friendly, unpretentious spot that enchants diners with a homey yet upscale experience thanks to storied caterer Gene Singletary.
What works: The one-page menu, aptly labeled ''New American Cuisine,'' offers loads of happy classics such as escargot gratin, French onion soup, Caesar salad, steak au poivre and lamb shank as well as pastas and recommendable daily specials that always include local seafood. The savory aroma of the Prince Edward Island mussels hits your nose before the plate hits the table. The simple dish includes a rich, slightly sweet broth of red curry in coconut milk with a nest of blanched onion shavings that add a tasty edge. A young and unambitious 70-bottle wine list arranged by varietal works just fine with the menu. There is also a decent selection of beers, including the house Cooper's, as well as a dozen single-malt scotches
What needs help: The French onion soup's broth lacks depth, but the beefy, steaming bowl with its crusty, creamy cap is still satisfying. The popular burger was perfectly seared to a delicate black with a juicy center, yet it lacked seasoning -- a few shakes of salt would have made a world of difference. Salads are uniformly fresh and large, but the dressings, including a mouth-puckering sherry vinaigrette, weren't properly emulsified..
Service lacking: What we found disconcerting on all our visits was the uneven service. Waits, both for reserved tables and dishes, pushed the limits, and servers, while pleasant, weren't always on the ball. We had an unintentionally leisurely lunch when our waiter kept disappearing behind the bar. Another server let us order two sides of mashed potatoes without telling us our mains would include them.
Desserts: My favorite is a creamy, utterly smooth coconut flan topped with bits of gently toasted coconut meat and ringed with a generous drizzle of caramel. A kiss-on-the-cheek molten chocolate cake and s'mores with a dome of marshmallow merengue also make sweet exclamation points in a delicious, ongoing chapter of Miami history.
Coopers Resto Bar, 16701 S. Dixie Hwy., Palmetto Bay; 305-234-1444.
Hours: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., 5 - 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m., 5 - 11 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., 5 - 11 p.m. Saturday; 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., 5 - 9 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Pastas $10 - $12, appetizers $5 - $9, salads $4 - $6.50, salads $5 - $8, entrees $11 - $22, desserts $3 - $7.
FYI: Reservations suggested, especially on weekends. Full bar; corkage $10. Free parking. AX, DN, MC, VS.
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp from Coopers Resto Bar, located at 16701 South Dixie Highway in Palmetto Bay. Photo: Nissa Benjamin.