By Sara Liss
The goods: The much-buzzed about W South Beach is now open opposite the Bass Museum, injecting the area with a globe-trotting glam that is very much on display at Soleá, the first restaurant to open at the hotel (the other – Mr. Chow – is slated to open in August). Executive Michael Gilligan (formerly of Atrio at the Conrad) has put together an A-list team of local industry insiders – his Chef de Cuisine is Arthur Artiles (who made his name at the recently-shuttered Brosia), the pastry chef is Antonio Bachour (who spun confections at Scarpetta and Talula) and the restaurant manager is Dale LoSasso, wife of North 110's chef Dewey LoSasso and former manager at Gotham Steak. Owners are Nicola Siervo and Karim Masri of Quattro and Mokai fame so things tend to get busy later on in the evening when the jet-setters and their eye candy come out to dine.
Ambiance: We are seduced by Soleá, a temple-like Mediterranean restaurant that offers a grand backdrop to the local scenesters, foreign aristocrats and affluent Europeans that filled its dark leather director chairs on a recent evening. Soaring ceilings, white brick walls and warm candlelit tables frame intimate dining alcoves while outdoor seating on the terrace overlooks the hotel's meandering gardens. Make sure to take a gander at the marble bar at the rear of the restaurant where a cave-like brick oven provides the foundation for the menu's rustic offerings.
The grub: Contemporary Mediterranean with a strong Spanish influence. There's also a bit of a chop house thing going on with a selection of Prime steaks and fresh seafood grilled that is either locally caught or flown in daily. Prices match the posh surroundings with starters priced $12-$20, mains like steak and fish in the $30-$50 range and sides average $8.
Dinner begins with a basket of home made bread flecked with black olives and feta, flatbread and three dishes of marinated red peppers, olives and fennel in olive oil. Start off with the salt cod croquettes with saffron-garilic aioli and the citrus-cured tuna tartar made with a dash of chili and sesame oil. A short menu of flatbreads baked to a crusty finish in the brick oven include one topped with Iberico ham and a veggie-friendly olive, peppers and goat cheese variety. Fish dishes like local snapper are grilled simply with little more than olive oil, sea salt and lemon and can be served with bones or butterflied kitchen-side. Steaks include a 22 oz. rib eye and a grilled filet. A side of mixed mushrooms includes pricey chanterelles, oysters and creminis while the truffle fries are made with truffle salt and truffle vinegar – a nod to chef Gilligan's British heritage.
Desserts like the “Chocolate Sabotage” will please chocolate addicts for its mix of chcoclate panna cotta, white chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache bar but the ethereal coconut panna cotta with its guava soup and caramelized pineapple proves a more refreshing end to a sultry summer night.
Verdict: It's definitely one of the more sceney restaurants to open this summer, but, thanks to a respectable team in the kitchen, Soleá has more to offer than just eye candy.
Soleá at the W South Beach, 2201 Collins Ave, 305-938-3111. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Sun -Wed 6:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. Thurs - Sat 6:30 - 12 a.m.