The big review: Buena Vista Bistro **½
A love story brought this restaurant to fruition -- and they haven't even killed each other yet.
By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Behind every restaurant there's a story. And at Buena Vista Bistro, it's a simple one. Veteran Chef Claude Postel moved to Montreal in his 20s, where he opened a series of successful restaurants and pâtisseries. After two decades of toiling in the snow he wanted to escape. He was cooking on Miami Beach's Ocean Drive when he met Callie, who would become his wife. After moving off the beach to a home with a yard big enough for their dog, they decided to open their own spot, a straightforward bistro on the site of the quirky New York import called A.
Their partnership has proven a great success, and the results are enchanting in an offbeat, romantic way. The forlorn storefront on a frayed segment of northeast Second Avenue nearly taunts snobby types not to come in. A tattooed waiter makes the rounds, pleasing regulars who come for the cheap, solid bistro fare. The international wine list ($23-$51) is etched in swirly letters onto a wall-size mirror, and the simple menu -- scrawled on a chalkboard above the kitchen pass-through window -- lists no more than two dozen items. A recent night's line-up included scallops, crab cakes, duck pate, escargot Provençal, a couple of salads, lamb chops, roasted salmon, chicken curry, a pair of pastas and a few sides. But pay attention to your server because the daily specials, especially seafood, are usually worth it.
Postel is proud to tell of his shopping ventures each day when he haggles for the freshest fish and produce and spins them into such lovely rustic dishes as tuna in a green peppercorn sauce or simple snapper seared and served with mashed potatoes and spinach. These past few weeks, the tomatoes have been pasty, which makes for a weak caprese salad but didn't seem to trouble the always good escargot sautéed in garlic and herbs. A large, delicately dressed salad of mixed greens makes a nice complement to the hearty rilletes du mans, a rustic terrine of pork served with cornichons and Dijon mustard.
Sure bets include a fine meaty rib-eye steak and the luscious duck confit, a tiny half bird served golden and crisped over layers of thinly sliced buttery potatoes still in their skin and cooked until silky. Potatoes also appear French fried and as a chunky mashed style. Both disappear from plates within minutes. Other sides, like a rough cut ratatouille and gently sautéed spinach, taste like a month in the country.
And for a sweet finish, the few choices are equally endearing. Rice pudding, rich and dense with still chewy bits of white rice, tastes like homecoming, while a creamy chocolate mousse made with Valhrona chocolate bittersweet confection is rich and soothing. Profiteroles stuffed with creamy vanilla ice cream can be transporting -- though one night the pastries were a bit stale.
This is a neighborhood restaurant with modest ambitions and a sweet love story. That it ended up in Miami feels lucky.
Buena Vista Bistro, 4582 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-456-5909. 11 a.m.-midnight daily. Appetizers
$5-$10, entrees $8-$25, desserts $4
FYI: Limited reservations accepted but business is mostly walk-in, imported beers and international wines; corkage $25, free street parking. AX, DN, MC, VS.
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