The goods: There are few spots in Miami as magical as the setting for Gibraltar, the revamped restaurant at the Grove Isle Hotel in Coconut Grove. Taking over the former Baleen space, this new incarnation still packs a visual punch with dazzling views of the bay and Miami skyline visible from every seat in the glass-enclosed dining room. Baleen had long been a favorite for locals looking for a romantic spot for wedding proposals and Valentine’s Day dinners but the past few years it lost its culinary luster and was frequented mostly by tourists and those who ignored the ho hum cuisine in favor of the unbeatable views. After a $1 million renovation the space is now helmed by Executive Chef Jeff O’Neill who has worked with celeb chefs Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert in New York and most recently headed the kitchen at Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and worked as Donald Trump’s private chef.
Ambiance: The vast dining room is outfitted in gray leather chairs, white linens and dark woods. It’s airy and dimly-lit with servers thoughtfully offering mini-flashlights to help read the menu. On warm nights be sure to sit outside where flickering tiki torches provide a warm glow to the waterfront setting.
The grub: Contemporary American focusing on seafood. The dishes are sophisticated here, with almost fanatical attention to detail and precise plating; comfort food, this is not. Prices are reasonable given the ritzy location: starters are $8-$16, mains $23-$39 and sides average about $6. Dinner starts with a basket of pretzel bread and Indian naan with two accompaniments: a coriander yogurt dip and a slab of butter flecked with sea salt (although a spiced mustard would have worked better with the pretzel). A starter of creamy carrot soup poured over a scoop of mascarpone cheese and pumpernickel croutons warms the soul on a chilly night. Be sure to order the smoked salmon loin, if only to taste its side of fluffy corn beignets – the happy union of corn bread and doughnuts. A nightly special of an asparagus salad with grilled mushrooms and ricotta flan drizzled with truffle vinaigrette was an elegant start to the refined meal. The roasted pumpkin tortellini is lighter than it sounds, composed of delicate pasta pillows in a foamy maple and sage sauce. Mains focus mostly on seafood with sole, yellowtail snapper and sweet water trout on offer. A petite fillet of striped bass over black olive faro allowed the fresh ingredients to speak for themselves as did a Surf and Turf-style combo of black grouper and veal cheek with crispy polenta logs.
When it comes to dessert you can’t go home without trying the chef’s famous key lime pie, praised by Oprah and featuring a less-tart, more sweet filling encased in a salted graham cracker crust and topped with shaved white chocolate. The South African-style Malva pudding (really more of a spice cake) comes with a scoop of ginger snap ice cream and is the ideal cap to winter night.
Verdict: Donald Trump’s former chef impresses with a sophisticated menu at the refurbished Baleen space now known as Gibraltar.