The big review: Andu **1/2
Andu's Mediterranean menu is almost there but not quite, kind of like the 'hood in which it resides.
By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Andú Restaurant & Lounge could be a popular neighborhood hangout if only there were a viable neighborhood around it. Instead, a stalled apartment project faces the sleek space's terrace and a sparsely populated condominium looms above.
The ambitious eatery comes to us from Guatemalan-born brothers Antonio and Juan Pablo Viejo, whose sunny personalities suffuse the place with more warmth than you'd expect from the nightclubby slate and glass décor. The kitchen is in the capable if sometimes heavy hands of executive chef Nate Martin.
There are plenty of recommendable dishes -- just don't count on the friendly but decorum-challenged servers for advice. One Bronx-born chatterbox shared his childhood ambitions, career change, even salary details, but forgot to bring our calamari until it was quite cold. Another server on a different night thought our still wine belonged in champagne flutes.
Sticking with simple dishes is a fairly foolproof plan. A sprightly ceviche of snapper, shrimp and grouper in a bright, lemony bath gains dimension from chopped tomato. Lusciously fresh baby black mussels swim in an aromatic rioja broth served alongside pinky-thin, Parmesan-coated fries -- crisply addictive but hardly the "best in the universe," as the menu boasts. Still, a simple dish like this or a perfectly seasoned and seared burger on a toasty brioche bun is what makes this overachiever a place to consider seriously when in the 'hood.
Also tasty: Pan-fried, Moroccan-spiced calamari with bits of broccoli rabe and a brown butter sauce tinged with Meyer lemon; a thin but juicy swordfish sandwich elevated by baby arugula and red pepper aioli and a surprisingly tender free-range chicken in a thick and tangy tomato sauce spiked with harissa and dotted with hunks of summer squash. Even mushy red beans didn't ruin that last one. Sides of grilled asparagus topped with lemon and good-quality olive oil and sautéed wild mushrooms with plenty of garlic and rosemary are more reasons to smile.
Some of the more far-reaching dishes fall short, however. Martin's execution tends toward the overly saucy and salty, as in a tender, bone-in ribeye with a port wine sauce as thick as Sunday gravy and a briny side of Tuscan ratatouille. A soupy paella is stocked with tasty morsels of seafood, corn and chorizo, but lacks the crunchy-creamy complexity of the real deal. (We're told it isn't long for the menu.) And what to make of an otherwise tasty shrimp scampi served with "potato petals'' -- rough, raw shavings that are what I call peels. Both dishes also suffered from excess sodium.
Dips -- an otherwise fine hummus, for example, and a pasty salt-cod brandade saved only by tart slivers of preserved lemon -- also are spoiled by too much of the white stuff. Salads, including the Caesar, the Mediterranean and an otherwise delightful beet, spinach and gorgonzola number, arrive as drenched as a weather reporter covering a hurricane.
Desserts are a different story, with standouts like Pineapple Dreams -- tiny pools of crème brulée with paper-thin pineapple and a vanilla malt on the side. Then there are the orange-glazed doughnuts with hot white chocolate. Like Andú, they're sweet and tangy, a little bit different and just good enough to try again.
Andú, 141 SW 7th St., Brickell; 786-871-7005; oon-11 p.m. Mon-Wed, noon-midnight Thurs-Sat, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun; appetizers $6-$15, entrees $20-$28, sides $5-$10, desserts $7-$8
FYI: Full bar; corkage $5. Metered street parking; $5 valet available Wed-Sat evening.
AX, DN, MC, VS.
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