Residents of Bal Harbour, as well as their neighbours and visitors to the Bal Harbour shops should now be excited that a new restaurant, Aba, has opened on its main floor, in the former Makoto restaurant space.
The restaurant is very attractive and you can see a lot of money was spent on totally transforming the interiors. Reclaimed wood walls, faux olive trees throughout, with hanging ivy and plants to warm up the neutral colored décor. Modern wicker chairs, and dimly lit hanging globe lamps make for a very fashionable and alluring environment. A well appointed bar with seats for diners and a large outdoor covered terrace, and coming soon, an upstairs terrace and bar. A lovely selected playlist plays in the background.
‘Aba’ translates to father in Hebrew. I’m not sure what the significance of the name is here. It is a Mediterranean restaurant featuring chef CJ Jacobson’s fare, including Israeli, Lebanese, Turkish and Greek cuisines. This is the third location for Aba, the original is in Chicago and another one is in Austin. As you know, I am not a fan of most chain restaurants, and Aba was no exception.
Our server Reed was not very enthusiastic when I asked what the signature dishes were. Don’t you just love when they reply ‘everything is great’… We shall see.
First, we ordered a cocktail, and the list looked fun and creative. But the mocktail and frosé were both sour and acidic. The menu is large, and divided into hummus, spreads, cold and warm mezze, Mediterranean butcher, seafood, kebabs and desserts. I don’t recall one memorable or standout dish, but there were plenty of disappointing ones.
You can always judge a Mediterranean restaurant by its kitchen’s classic hummus. I’m still dreaming about LA’s Bavel restaurants take on it. Aba’s was bland and tasteless and it was a good indicator of what was to follow. We were told the Hamachi was a bestseller, but it was cut in thick and thin uneven slices, had an unusual texture and was flavorless. The smoky eggplant spread fared better. The tamarind braised short ribs were at least tender, but the kitchen should be less timid and add more flavoring. The green falafels were extra, extra crispy, probably thrice fried, but I know great falafels and am spoiled for life after having them by Chef Tomer Markowitz of Toronto/Israel. The crispy potatoes were heavily sprinkled with cheese and tasted like they were pre-made earlier in the day. They were okay. The best part of dinner was our Instagram worthy dessert, called Bougatsa. It is presented as a phyllo tower that is then smashed by our server, who then tosses it with the vanilla custard, sugar and cinnamon and orange blossom that is hiding underneath.
There are many restaurants in Miami serving similar fare that are all superior to Aba. Motek, Abba Telavivian Kitchen, Byblos, Milo’s, and Mandolin all come to mind. There are also better choices in the Bal Harbour shops, like Hillstones, Makoto and Le Zoo. Aba is another alternative and at least it is better than Carpaccio.
People are more sophisticated and well travelled nowadays, with more discerning tastes. I think Aba needs to step up the food to a higher level in my humble opinion.