The who: Chef Philippe Ruiz, formerly of Palme d’Or at the Biltmore, has unveiled Lippi, his ode to Mediterranean cooking.
The back story: According to creator (and Zuma president) Tunu Puri , the concept when he hired Ruiz was French fine dining. But once they took the lay of land and realized there were already plenty of upscale French spots downtown (like DB Bistro), they decided a Mediterranean approach would be more compelling. Thus, the menu, which spans influences from South America to Europe.
The seats: Cushy and luxurious. The cavernous 216-seat dining room is awash in beige and gold tones, Murano chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of Brickell’s street scene. A lounge with low-slung velvet chairs flanks a marble bar, and the whole place feels a bit like a regal bank that’s been converted to a restaurant. Most nights Ruiz can be found expediting from behind the alabaster crudo bar that offers a glimpse into the clamorous kitchen and prep station.
The plates: More than 60 dishes, from tapas-size bites to full-scale entrees. Prices are in keeping with the swanky atmosphere with most small plates $12-$16 and mains $24-$72.
Instead of a bread basket, warm gougères (cheesy cream puffs) are sent to the table to start. Presentations are varied, with rustic ceramic bowls, wooden planks and slabs of Himalayan salt. The mushroom risotto is served in a cast-iron ramekin over a small burner that is lit tableside, while the truffled scrambled eggs are served in a glass sphere. Fans of Ruiz’s classic dishes will appreciate the foie gras terrine, served here with tropical fruit chutney over spiced brioche toast, and the tender duck breast. Maine lobster ravioli is bathed in a coriander bisque foam, while mini crab cakes come with harissa aioli.
Desserts are by pastry chef Sarah Thompson (formerly of Four Seasons Miami), who puts together Zuma-like platters of ice creams, freshly baked financiers and madeleines and elaborate tarts and cakes.