First look: Area 31

Area 31's risotto. Photo: Adam Larkey

The goods: The steakhouse backlash continues. This time it’s the in the form of Area 31, a glossy new seafood emporium located in the new Epic Hotel downtown. Perched at the mouth of the Miami River, the restaurant’s 16th floor locale boasts futuristic vistas of downtown skyscrapers and the nautical traffic below. Indoor seating offers views of the busy open kitchen amidst pearlized, textured wall coverings, wood clad columns and 12-foot high windows. The spacious outdoor balcony is one of Miami’s more attractive settings these days, with plenty of seating including private cabanas flanking two infinity pools.

Chef John Critchely, a Boston native, presides over a menu that focuses on fresh fish and seafood sourced from the restaurant’s namesake region, Fishing Area 31, the ecologically sound marine waters of the Western Central Atlantic including the entire Florida coast, Central America and northern South America.

The grub:
It’s all about the fish here, so don’t bother looking at the red meat options (of which there’s a skirt steak, lamb leg and veal. There we said it. Moving on). The fish selection includes mahi, corvina, Spanish mackerel, Mangrove snapper, dorade and wahoo. Prices are reasonable given the restaurant’s location in a luxury hotel and the quality of ingredients used; most entrees rarely top $24, starters are $8-$14 and there are options to order half portions of fish (5 oz.) for $12-$16.

Dinner starts with homemade bread and an olive sofrito, setting the tone for the light and flavorful fare to come. Start off with a variety of crudo like the marinated oysters or seared Spanish mackerel dressed with porcini mushrooms. Then choose a grilled fish option and one of three sauces such as the salsa verde with shallots and capers. Pasta dishes include innovative renditions of classics like the gnocchi tuna Bolognese and the chittara with spicy crab ragout. Sides like polenta, Swiss chard and mushroom risotto add carb-filled gluttony to the meal.
Cap the fish feast with the key lime tart or homemade ice creams in flavors like olive oil and pomegranate.

The verdict: Area’s 31’s enviable waterfront locale and pristine seafood selection are already making waves among Miami’s discerning dining crowds.

Area 31 at the Epic Hotel, 270 Biscayne Blvd; 305-424-5234. Breakfast daily 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner Mon-Sat 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Sun 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Published: 1/09