I have always been eager to try Cindy Hutson‘s Ortanique on the Mile, a Coral Gables mainstay, but for whatever reason, I have never made it there. She is an award-winning chef with a reputation for creating a culinary experience with flavours from the Tropics. She won an award in 1994 for “the best Caribbean restaurant in South Florida” by publications such as USA Today, New York Times, London Times, Chicago Tribune and Ocean Drive magazines and best new restaurant in America in 1999 by Esquire Magazine and has had rave reviews from every top magazine and food and wine organizations like, Gourmet Magazine, Wine Spectator, Conde Nast Traveller, Bon Appetit Magazine, Food and Wine Magazine, “the top female chef award” in 2006 by the American Chef Association and in 2012 she was named “chef of the year” by Chef Magazine and Eater, and on and on.
In March of 2016, along with her partner and director of operations, Delius Shirley, she has created a new spot in downtown Miami at 200 S. Biscayne Blvd. named, Zest Restaurant and Market. She calls it, “cuisine of the sun”, for everything under the sun, or a world cuisine. It is her first South Florida expansion in 17 years. She has created a vibe of flavours and excitement.
This 3,500 square foot restaurant can seat up to 60 people. It features an open kitchen, a large patio with a state of the art indoor/outdoor bar and patio that can seat 150 people or up to 350 for a stand-up party, and a private dining room that holds 18-25 people depending on the seating configuration. The place has a warm feel to it, done in oranges, with living green walls, metallic accents, and lots of natural light. The flooring is done in wood and Morrocan tile and is quite attractive.
Mike Fischetti is the Chef de Cuisine, while Barbara Scott is at the helm ofZest MRKT Test Market, a small spot open weekdays for breakfast and lunch and grab and go gourmet delights, and catering, with things like sandwiches, soups, salads, fresh juices, protein shakes and delectable desserts. Considering the location in the heart of the financial district, this is a boon for all the busy and rushed professionals in the area. The space is located between two large office towers.
We experienced a warm welcome from the minute we walked through the doors. Manager and Maitre’D, Reggie Pearson, checked on us frequently and was there to an answer any questions or give suggestions when needed. Cindy’s menu features a beautiful range of ethnically diverse and seasonally driven dishes that spotlight her culinary approach to global cuisine. Still, I could detect some of her signature Island flavours in many of the descriptions on the menu. The menu includes some more seductive options, along with a smaller menu of dinner choices that changes every couple of days.
We started with a cup of delightful carrot ginger bisque with an orange almond crema. Next, we tried the ceviche of the day, which happened to be a cobia with passionfruit juices, bell peppers, cilantro, ahi amarillo, Bermuda onion and coconut milk. It comes with a side of homemade plantain chips shaped into little bowls that are perfect for scooping. A signature dish for me is the cast iron charred calamari, with grilled lemon, blistered shishito peppers in a perfect orange glaze. Our server, Cathy, told me they cook the sauce for multiple days and I have to say this dish was a showstopper for me. The calamari is the most tender I have ever had and the sauce is the perfect balance of bold flavours. The other appetizer choices sounded intriguing as well. The mango burrata in a pepita seed pesto with toasted macadamia nuts in a sorrel flower glaze was one, and they make a new flatbread every night, like brisket with manchego, tamarind bbq sauce and onions, or duck and blueberry jam, which is supposed to be outstanding. I tried the Blue Mountain coffee and cocoa crusted salmon on a bed of creamy polenta, with sautéed baby arugula in a fabulous chipotle agave glaze. This is another standout dish. It’s unapologetically flavourful. I wish more restaurants cooked like this instead of cooking, bland, “safe” food. My husband tried the special of pan seared snapper with gungo peas and jasmine rice, along with sautéed spinach in a coconut curry rundown sauce, which was another winner. For dessert, we tried the guava and cream cheese bread pudding – a tropical delight. The menu also has ribeye, lamb chops, pork, pasta and other fish choices too. There is lots of variety on the menu where Cindy can test the limits with her bold flavours. Her cooking is imaginative and memorable. If you are expecting a trendy, ultra-hip restaurant, this is not your place. Those are a dime a dozen all over Miami. However, if you want well-executed food with every bite bursting with flavour, a well-curated wine list, craft cocktails and beers, and cigars that can be purchased on site – this place won’t disappoint.
On Thursdays, Friday’s and Saturdays they have live music. Thursday is Reggae night, Friday is a DJ and Saturday is Latin blues. They also have a great menu of bar bites, so you can come for a drink, some snacks and listen to the music. You can also BYOB for a $25 corkage fee.
Zest is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; for dinner, Monday through Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Starting in season they will have a reggae champagne brunch with a la carte items as well as a ceviche buffet. Valet parking is $7 for Zest guests instead of the usual $15 charge. A warning, traffic in this area can be a nightmare so leave yourself enough time to get here.
Brickell seems to be getting all the notable new restaurants. I guess I will be putting lots of mileage on my car this winter. I also know I will be trying Orantique on the Mile for sure.