People always ask me why I never drive north of Miami to try some restaurants. If I am being frank, it is because I haven’t found much to make me want to drive there. When I heard the James Beard nominated Chef José Mendin was opening a new place reported to be fish and seafood-focused it piqued my interest. I’ve loved some of his concepts in the past, except for La Placita. Opened on December 26, 2019, Rivertail Restaurant is a large space, holding 144 guests inside and on the patio.
Chef Mendin’s menu is large, featuring a raw bar, snacks and such, on a bun, from the grill, chef’s specialties and sides. Fortunately, I can save you the time and effort of driving from Miami to try it out like I did. The place was extremely loud, and you had to scream to hear what anybody says. The food was so over-salted, it was mediocre at best, and in some cases inedible. The fish did not taste that fresh to me either. Having just dined recently at Navé (a seafood-focused restaurant) in Coconut Grove, I would say there was no comparison as to the quality and freshness and taste of what was being served. At Rivertail, there was nothing that was a standout.
Perhaps the seafood ceviche was the best that we ordered, done with an aji amarillo, lime, cancha, onions and cilantro. The $38 king crab legs were so inedibly salty we had to send them back. The crab donuts were a cute idea but they were too salty and not that tasty. We ordered a lobster roll, but they weren’t a roll, just a stale, toasted brioche square, that was also very salty. The branzino which was one of the chef’s supposed specialties was very mediocre, mushy, and not very fresh tasting. The crab mac and cheese had zero crab in or on it. The brussels sprouts with bacon miso were actually delicious but also had way too much salt in them. Our key lime pie served in a jar had a stale cake underneath, yuck. If all this wasn’t bad enough the service was so unpolished. This place should not have opened until everyone was properly trained. It was one faux pas after another.
The server would bring the food but didn’t give us plates, then asked how everything was. We said we didn’t know since there were no plates to eat our food. No sorry was offered, they just said, “oh yeah, sure”. They also do not provide serving spoons or forks for the shareable plates. That is one of my pet peeves. Every dish was served at once, another pet peeve. At one point the table was full of water, but no one ever cleaned it up. When we ordered the branzino, the server asked, “a la manure?”, we had to say, “the marinière, please”, and laugh to ourselves. When the manager came by to ask how everything was, he didn’t stay long enough for us to tell him … ?? When the bill came they still charged us for the king crab legs that we sent back. We had to remind them to remove it from the bill.
So is this a place I would recommend people who live in Miami to drive to? The answer is no. Having a Beard-nominated executive chef doesn’t justify the poor quality of food and service. Everything looked much better than it tasted.