By Michael Mayo
What makes a great restaurant? A stunning beachfront location or elegant dining room helps, a good wine list and polished service are artful accomplices, but in my mind it always comes down to the food. A chef can be innovative, even daring, and the finished plates may be pretty enough to frame (or post on Instagram), but does the food taste good? My picks for the top newcomers in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties feature meals and menus that should make discerning diners eager to come back for more.
In BROWARD COUNTY
Inside the Auberge Beach Residences & Spa, 2200 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 754-900-4059, Dunefl.com.
It’s gorgeous, it’s on the ocean and it’s my favorite Broward newcomer of the past year. Perhaps you too will be swept away by Dune at the Auberge Residences and Spa, a restaurant that opened in November 2018 and is operated by the same folks behind Napa Valley’s famed Auberge du Soleil resort. The soft-toned interior is California casual yet elegant and the deck is beach bliss. The wine list is impressive and fairly priced. The food from chef Edgar Beas isn’t overly ambitious but is solid and well executed.
Dune is offering a $45 menu Monday through Thursday through Sept. 30 as part of Greater Fort Lauderdale Restaurant Months, with an around-the-world, four-flight wine pairing option available for an extra $25. (Go ahead, live a little.) Start with Dune’s signature crab spätzle with chili flakes, or tuna crudo with kimchi and hearts of palm, or little gem salad with beets and goat cheese. Main course options include roasted chicken with lemon and romesco sauce, wild salmon with shaved fennel or grilled skirt steak with salbitxada (zesty tomato) sauce and green onions. Choose among four side dishes, including mushrooms, grits, potatoes or summer squash. Finish with Valrhona chocolate cake with caramel sauce or coconut ice cream with puffed rice.
Quote: “Dune is elegant without being stuffy, proper without being formal, married perfectly to its beachfront location with a casual vibe.”
In MIAMI-DADE COUNTY
1500 San Ignacio Ave., Coral Gables, 305-912-2639, fiolamiami.com.
Luxury oozes from every pore and every pour at this stunning gastronomic temple from Michelin-starred chef Fabio Trabocchi, who brought an outpost of his Washington, D.C., Italian restaurant to Coral Gables last November. Some drinks at the bar are finished with spritzes from rosewater atomizers and elegant managers stride the dining room floor in impeccable suits. It is typically very expensive, but the annual Miami Spice promotion provides the opportunity for commoners to mingle with the 1 percent.
Spice menus will be offered at lunch Tuesday-Friday and dinner Sunday-Thursday through Sept. 30. Among the offerings: the colors of the garden salad, short rib tortellini in brodo, wild hamachi, stracciatella toast, branzino, potato gnocchi, Wagyu short ribs, Cornish hen, rigatoni Bolognese and cacio e pepe in Parmesan crisp. Dessert options include butterscotch bamboloni or Peruvian chocolate marchese.
Quote: “Fiola…has become the hottest restaurant — and one of the hardest tables to snag — in South Florida. The dining room is elegant and gorgeous, and so are the people who inhabit it, from servers and managers in tailored jackets, to the clientele, who all look as if they have just stepped from the pages of Thomas Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. There are many Masters of the Universe and Social X Rays tucking into $200 seafood towers with caviar and crab, expensive cuts of meat (including bison tartare and venison chop), salads that look too pretty to eat and a creamy, dreamy polenta side dish with mushrooms ($13).”
In PALM BEACH COUNTY
MIA Kitchen & Bar
MIA Kitchen is half Italian restaurant, half modern-American laboratory, and talented chef Jason Binder makes it work. He’s one of those obsessive chefs worth driving a distance to try.
The tuna burger ($21) is an example of his flavor wizardry, ruby-red ahi that is ground to remove the stringiness and seared ever-so-slightly. Served on a soft brioche bun, it is accompanied by garlicky, sweet housemade pickles and creamy, spiky sriracha slaw. What I did not realize until a follow-up interview was that the tuna was actually ground, subtly re-shaped to resemble a steak. Binder made the sandwich in steak form when he arrived at MIA Kitchen a few months ago, but he didn’t like the stringy texture. So he tweaked it by grinding it. It’s some trick, because the tuna holds its shape beautifully. “The mouthfeel is incredible,” Binder says. I have to agree.
Quote: “No matter which corner of the globe the menu wanders to, and there are many, the plates that land on tables at MIA look good and taste better. … Simply put, much of the food at MIA Kitchen is top notch, with quality ingredients prepared well and without cutting corners.”
Photo: Dune, inside the Auberge Residence & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, photographed by Nick Garcia. For photos of all three restaurants, see pgs. 59-62 of our digital edition, http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/publication/?i=617740