When traveling for work, I’m in a new city every day of the week. Think George Clooney in Up in the Air without the sexual encounters. And after an exhausting day of planes, cabs and rent-a-car’s I appreciate it when the hotel restaurant is good enough to keep me on the property. Area 31 at the Epic Hotel in Miami Beach is one of those.
Located on the 16th floor of the Epic, you have the choice to dine indoors or alfresco; surrounded by Miami skyscrapers
When the background music and conversation adds to a restaurant’s ambiance it enhances your dining experience. When it doesn’t, it’s as pleasant as listening to Steven Tyler sing the national anthem. Unfortunately, next to the dining space, Area 31 has a raucous outdoor bar where club music, loud conversations of Spanglish and smoking is de rigueur. Why does the smoke always drift toward the non-smokers?
The club vibe aside, the food from Executive Chef E. Michael Reidt is described as showcasing pristine, sustainable seafood from the restaurant’s namesake, fishing Area 31. I’m a sucker for culinary lagniappes. The meal starts with the worlds largest croutons which are a chewy way to provide a taste of of both white and raisin bread without risking cries of FOUL from the carb counting crowd. This crouton klatch is served with a dip of soffrito consisting of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, Provencal herbs and shallots.
I appreciate a chef who serves food which fits into the culinary culture of the restaurant, especially something I’ve never had like soffrito, but it suffered from too much tomato and not enough garlic, shallots and herbs.
At home I eat mostly vegetarian but when I’m on the road and especially in a place known for having great local and sustainable seafood, I have to try it. So I started with a small bite of wahoo crudo for $9. It is raw wahoo, garlic, olive oil, shallots and citrus powder – a mix of various citrus piths. The presentation was clean and fun with each glistening bite of wahoo skewered with a miniature bamboo harpoon.
The wahoo was meaty and substantial but did have a hint of fishiness. And like the tomato did to the soffrito, the citrus overwhelmed the wahoo adding an unwelcome bitterness. The same problem when you eat sushi doused in wasabi or siracha mayo and it’s all you can taste. This dish would be better if it were more ceviche-like topped with just citrus juice, no rind and a bit more shallot and garlic.
My next course was Florida corn soup for $11. Lump crab meat arrived in a bowl sprinkled with a dehydrated brown butter powder. Then Javier, my amiable server, poured a mixture of cream corn and rendered bacon over the top.
I don’t like bacon however I can’t call myself an OMNIVOROUS vegetarian if I’m not willing to try anything. And I’m glad I am because this is pork and seafood done right. Instead of an overwhelming salted pork flavor I’ve had in the past from dishes like prosciutto wrapped shrimp, in this dish it adds an extra dimension of richness and savoriness.
I chose a Flora Springs Napa Valley Chardonay ’09 to pair with my soup and entrée. It’s a mix of 50% French Oak aging and 50% stainless steel.
The creaminess of the corn matches well with wine’s roundness and buttery quality and the brininess of lump crab with the wines minerality. It’s a great pairing for this soup and a great setting to enjoy it.
For an entrée, I ordered yellow tail snapper with coconut rice, baby zucchini rounds, globe carrots, lump crab meat and a cilantro pesto for $27. Another great presentation, from the bowl it was served in to table side pour of the cilantro pesto. But…
like the crudo, the snapper was a little fishy. As I experimented with different bites I discovered it was the skin that was adding the fishy funk and once removed it went away but the fish was a still a little dry and chewy. This dish would be better with a richer and more substantial fish without the skin, replacing the lost crunch of the skin with some fried herbs, kicking up the flavor of the bland rice and adding rendered bacon. I’m kidding about the bacon…or am I?
For dessert I chose the Strawberry “Rock”. No. Not a wrestling doll combing the girlish innocence of the Strawberry Shortcake doll with Dwayne Johnson’s wrestling alter ego though that would be hilarious. If you smell what the Strawberry Rock is cooking? This strawberry rock is a dessert of macerated strawberries, tres leches cake and pistachio ice cream for $8
It was good but not great. The strawberry flavor comes nicely through but the strawberries could have been fresher. The dish has a nice variety of textures: hard, soft, crunchy, creamy but the strawberry rock tasted like cheap strawberry ice cream from Thriftys. The pistachio ice cream would be better with more creaminess such as in pistachio gelato. And pistachios roasted with sea salt would have added more interesting flavors than the candied pistachios. Overall, I’d give this dessert a pass.
I paired the dessert with a Kracher Auslese Burgenland Austria ’08 $15. It’s a viscous dessert wine with lots of orange flavor, orange rind, orange blossom and honey. It was a good wine and fantastic pairing with a dessert called Orange Rock. The strong orange flavor of the wine completely distracted from the strawberry flavor of the dessert. An orange liqueur like cointreau in the cake or an orange rind garnish might bring the dessert and wine better together but probably switching to a light berried dessert wine would be the best option.
Javier my server described Area 31 best when he said it’s, “food you can play with.” I appreciate that and even though some of the food you’d rather play with than eat, the knowledgeable and friendly service, the dedication to local and sustainable and it’s location are enough reasons to check out the Area.
16th floor at EPIC Hotel
270 Biscayne Blvd. Way
For more information about the author, please visit Brian von Dedenroth.