2.5 stars for Big Fish on Miami's Upper East Side
This Big Fish seems to have more lives than a cat. The original, a quirky Spanish restaurant marked by a red stiletto shoe sculpture a story high, opened nearly two decades ago on the Miami River. In 1999, a Milano restaurateur transformed it into an impossibly popular Italian restaurant-club that closed in 2010, only to pop up on the Little River just off Biscayne Boulevard a couple of months ago.
In this new, smaller spot (formerly a Greek tavern and an Indian buffet), nothing remains of the original pesce-centric eatery except the name, but new owners are trying to bring this fabled fish back to life. The straightforward menu of Italian seafood could use more fresh and local fish. The salmon, branzino, grouper and tuna on offer are common from Miami to Milwaukee.
Chef Andrea Chiriatti shows skill, but this kitchen is not stocked with the kind of 24-karat ingredients he enjoyed during a brief stint at the now-shuttered Gold & Pepper on South Beach. There are happy elements to this fish tale, including a magical outdoor setting and a few nice plates, if you choose well.
Ambience: Renovations included a much-needed cleanup of the interior and an expansion of the riverside terrace. Twinkling white lights, flowing drapes and tablecloths lend a romantic air, though the blood-red interior walls, fake flower centerpieces and clubby soundtrack are a bit tacky.
- Satisfying, vibrant, lemony tuna tartare with a creamy smattering of avocado
- Nicely plated, thinly sliced octopus carpaccio beneath a shower of infant arugula and sweet, grape tomato halves
- Luscious paccheri - wide, grooved tubes cooked al dente and sauced with a smooth cream dotted with ham and portobello mushrooms that is worth returning for
- Competent linguine alla vongole that sports teeny, tender eraser-sized clams as perky as high-school cheerleaders
- Salads, including a standard Caesar, that are dressed appropriately for the subtropical climate
- A sliver of branzino that was cooked perfectly al cartoccio (in paper packet) with briny black olives, earthy capers and juicy tomatoes
- Transporting patate al forno, perfectly puffed cubes of roasted potato
- A supple pannacota paired with a sweet-tart berry compote that nearly had us scraping the plate
- An airy chocolate mousse that is as fun as Christmas
- Indulgent tiramisu that has loads of cocoa and a potent dose of espresso
What Didn't Work
- Dry & thin grouper with buckling breadcrumb coating that was thicker than the fish itself
- A tagliata di manzo, rib-eye that was evenly marbled and tender enough, but had an odd grayish color
- A pair of pretty crab cakes that had the texture and taste of mashed potatoes
- Bracelet-sized rings of calamari were thin and golden but cold and chewy as rubber bands
- Mussels, clams and shrimp in the seafood risotto that lacked freshness and flavor
- Welcoming front-of-the-house staff that disappear for long stretches
- Servers that were quick to remove dishes we hadn't finished and slow to refill water and wine glasses
- A limited wine list
- Montepulciano wine that was served warm as bath water