If at first you don’t succeed …
Well, you know the old saying, and this is exactly what they did with Daniel Boulud’s previous restaurant at the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Brickell at 255 Biscayne Blvd Way. They are trying again and switching it up with a new concept that has worked well in New York city, Boulud Sud.
Much to my disappointment, the decor has been revamped. I was a HUGE fan of the previous sophisticated design by Yabu Pushelberg. The new look is brighter and lighter – a more contemporary ambiance to match the new lighter cuisine. There are now whites and blues and art by Brazilian artist Vic Muniz. The new menu focuses on the sun and sea and the Mediterranean, emphasizing regional fare from Spain, Italy, Morocco, Lebanon, Greece and the French Riviera. The menu tastes of places you may vacation to.
Under the capable direction of Maitre d’ Hotel manager Christophe Challange, our evening proceeded in a polished and well-executed affair.
The menu is divided into appetizers, pasta, mains simply grilled and desserts.
Our table started with a tasty mezzo selection of spicy Moroccan hummus, baba ganoush, eggplant and some delicious falafels, served with some crispy flatbread. We found the shareable tapas plates to be more to our liking than the main courses and based on our experience I would recommend going heavier on a large variety of these and lighter on the mains. I had my first frosé, a rosé wine, Lillet Blanc, and Lillet Rosé served frozen. I think I have a new favourite cocktail. There are other interesting cocktail choices in the drink program, like the Ciao Bella and the Grapefruit Blossom, or Mediterranée inspired selections, as well as a large selection of whiskey, scotch and cognac and beers, digestifs, and cordials. There is also a thoughtful wine list to match.
The setas con huevos, a roasted mushroom dish with tomatoes, croûtons and topped with a farm fresh egg is a delight. My favourite dish, however, is the tender, charred octopus à la plancha, with arugula, and Marcona almonds. The agnolotti pasta is filled with pumpkin, sage, guanciale and ricotta salata, which came in an appetizer or large portion. The artichokes alla Romana, with mint and aioli are freshly flash fried and appealing.
The mains were a disappointment, starting with the seared Mediterranean branzino, with freekeh, apricots and artichokes. It sounded wonderful but ended up being dry and uninspiring. Ditto the chicken tagine with couscous, cauliflower and turnips. It was overcooked and not very flavorful. Having just got back recently from Morocco I think I can now be a good judge on tagines as I had them coming out of my ears. The patatas bravado were also weak. They promise a crispy potato with a drizzle of garlic aioli, but what you get are limp, wrinkled potatoes. Potatoes are also a weakness in his Toronto restaurants as well. The cauliflower tabbouleh with za’atar, mint and fig definitely fared better.
For dessert, we were told we must have the James Beard award dessert of grapefruit givré. I have had this before at one of Daniel’s other restaurants and it was a better rendition of what we got here. If I am being honest, it didn’t taste fresh. This grapefruit is hollowed and re-stuffed with grapefruit sorbet, sesame foam and Turkish cotton candy and bits of halavah, and has been outstanding before. We also tried a Grand Marnier chocolate fondant, with a salted caramel sauce, a cacao crumble and a burnt orange ice cream. No complaints there. Of course, as in all of his restaurants, a basket full of warm madeleines can be ordered.
Our waiter Gabriel and the manager Christophe, served with competence, care, kindness and personal attention and made us all feel very welcome.