Pulsating dance music and leggy hostesses in pseudo-Playboy bunny attire usually don’t translate into a fine dining experience, but ultra-swank Bâoli has two things going for it: Chef Gustavo Vertone and an enchanting hidden courtyard that makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon The Secret Garden. Shade trees strung with sparkling lights and dainty chandeliers create a canopy over the patio. A long outdoor bar backed by a built-in white bookcase lends an old beach-town vibe. Waiters in suspenders and crisp white shirts work the tables, with a 15-foot shrub creating privacy at the far end.
Raised in Buenos Aires, Vertone, 34, attended Gato Dumas’ culinary school in Venezuela and expanded his knowledge by working in his Italian father’s family restaurants in Italy. The Bâoli group, which runs a trendy club-restaurant by the same name in Cannes, scooped him up and trained him further in France before sending him to South Beach as part of a management shift last year that turned Vita by Bâoli into simply Bâoli. Smart move.
Even with their sophisticated presentations, Vertone’s rustic dishes taste as if they’ve emerged from some ancient oven in a seaside village. Exorbitant prices aside, the succinct menu presents a thoughtful assortment of Mediterranean-inspired dishes, with a heavy presence of foie gras, truffles and roasted garlic. Whole rosemary sprigs, bay leaves and basil adorn hot cast-iron serving dishes, setting off fresh herb aromas.
Ambience: Such restrained charm on South Beach doesn’t come easy. To get there, you must walk down a long, narrow hallway lined with star-gazer photos and pass by the trendy lounge on the left. With its banquettes, occasional complimentary shots and theme nights like Wednesday’s “My Boyfriend is Out of Town,” the interior caters more to bachelorette parties than serious diners. Fortunately, the glass doors separating the club-restaurant from the rear patio are mercifully thick. Only the occasional strobe flash and burst of DJ music through an opened door are reminders that people are gyrating in earnest on the other side.
What Didn't Work