I like to visit each new restaurant with an open mind. That is precisely what I did when choosing to dine at Michael Schwartz’s brand new restaurant Fi’lia in the new SLS Hotel and Residences at 1300 South Miami Avenue in downtown Brickell.
I booked the restaurant a few weeks in advance. In the early afternoon of the day I would be visiting I got a confirmation call to remind us of our reservations. Then a few hours before our dinner we get a call to ask if we could come earlier as they were going to be slammed that evening. That is the first time that has ever happened and quite frankly was not a good way to start off an evening.
The name, “Fi’lia”, is a play on the Italian word, “figlia”, which means “daughter” – Michael has two daughters. He has expanded his operations and opened this restaurant in partnership with the Related Group. It is located on the main floor of the SLS. It is rather casual, with lots of wood, a wood-burning grill and oven, which are a focal point. There are hanging plants along the windows. The restaurant holds about 150 people including the 20 seats at the bar. In a few months, they are planning on doubling the size of the restaurant with an outside wrap around patio.
Miami Eater calls Michael Schwartz, “the godfather of farm-to-table”. He may have been one of the first to do this style of cooking in Miami. My favourite restaurant of his was when he cooked at a place called the Nemo, in South Beach and was owned by Miles Chavez – the food was so contemporary and delicious. This is Schwartz’s fifth restaurant and his first in the Brickell area, with the focus on classic Italian food. It includes fresh ingredients from the hearth, including handmade breads and pizza. These are a strong point of the kitchen. There are no modern or complicated dishes, but I would say more traditional ones. The chef’s roots are in Italian cooking.
The meal began with a warm and crusty artisanal bread delivered to the table with a sampling of the restaurants own cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. It was a good start.
However, following that, they brought our first three dishes at the same time. One of my pet peeves is when they bring all the food out at once. We mentioned that we did not appreciate this happening with our next plates, as we were sharing everything.
We tried the wood-grilled artichokes with a smoked paprika aioli. They were fair but one you have had Houstons’s or the Grill at Bal Harbour, then you have been spoiled for life. The meatballs with whipped ricotta and a side of garlic bread is a nice rustic rendition and comes with an excellent chunky sauce. The snapper tartare with celery, radish, smoked trout roe, in a parsley sauce with homemade potato chips was beautifully presented but unfortunately, for us, was inedible. The taste was fishy and vile. We mentioned this to our waiter, he shrugged, and we were still charged for the uneaten dish.
We were given a five-minute break, then all the remaining dishes came out at once, even after we said we didn’t want to be rushed and we did not want everything at once.
The best thing we had was the pizza. We tried one with house made ricotta, charred onion, pecorino and pistachio pesto. The crust was charred just the right amount and was delightful tasting. A lot of tables were getting Caesar salad, prepared tableside. I guess everything old becomes new again – a new generation who has never had this before. The corn agnolotti with lobster was too fishy tasting for me. It reminded me of a bouillabaisse sauce. The wood-grilled chicken, which is a specialty of the chef’s, is accompanied by a savoury bread pudding with pine nuts and currants. The dish is not a visual joy but is tasty. For note thought, every single dish we had was over-salted. I remember this from all of his restaurants as well. The crispy potatoes with rosemary and pecorino were not very crispy and were also very salty. The wood-grilled cabbage was nothing memorable either.
In my opinion, the cocktail program did not have very well-crafted choices. I think in today’s market you have to think outside the box when it comes to specialty drinks – create something not only delicious tasting but also aesthetically pleasing and unique. I found the wines by the glass and the mostly Italian selection of wines by the bottle to be uninspiring. Now that most restaurants have the Coravin method of keeping wines, why not offer some super Tuscans or reserve wines by-the-glass?
The restaurant was only three weeks old as of this review and, to me, the staff is not polished yet. This is not Michael Schwartz’s first rodeo, and I think they need to train properly and should not open until things are running smoothly. There were a lot of mistakes made that I won’t even bother mentioning.
The sweets fared a little better. We enjoyed a tart blueberry crostata with lemon and an olive oil gelato. It was light, crusty and homemade tasting. The pine nut and honey tart came with candied bitter orange peel, creme fraiche, and rosemary. The chocolate budino with caramel sauce and sea salt only tasted of salt – it was way too overpowering.
The restaurant has terrible acoustics, so between the heavy chatter and the blaring music, you will be hard pressed to have a conversation.
Brickell is becoming a culinary destination in this ever growing area. Lucky for Michael Schwartz as he will have a built-in audience.