By Bill Citara
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By Carla Torres
In a recent Vogue magazine article, hotelier Ian Schrager told writer Charles Gandee that his newly renovated property, the 238-room Delano Hotel, "has zero to do with South Beach -- absolutely zero. I wouldn't invest millions of dollars based upon the continued existence of models walking up and down Ocean Drive."
I beg to differ. For starters, the reconditioned 1947 relic named for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is located on Seventeenth Street and Collins Avenue in the vapidly beating heart of the Art Deco district. Call it the first rule of real estate, call it codependency, but Schrager and the Delano would never have made a match if not for the well-publicized re-emergence of South Beach. Not even the most visionary of developers would invest $28 million of renovation money in a rundown beachfront neighborhood.
Then again, those of us who live here know that Ocean Drive is about as near to defining South Beach as alligator wrestling is to Miccosukee Indian culture. And Schrager is right in a way. The stylish sophistication of the Delano is beyond the Beach's current touristy reach, though it could point the way toward the area's future. As for models, Schrager needn't fret about their "continued existence" on Candyland Row. They're all traipsing in and out of the Delano's lobby, lounging in the 150-foot-long pool, and dining at Blue Door, the glamorous hotel restaurant in which Madonna is a partner.
1685 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Region: South Beach
Gandee calls the Delano a "safe haven for the dangerously hip." Safe may not be quite the correct word -- on the night we visited, the number of people tripping on the unexpected step that leads from the 80-seat terrace into the 90-seat dining room exceeded that of lawyers in the house. But hip pretty much sums up the Blue Door, where I made a dinner reservation a month in advance and still got a table that was positioned halfway into the wait station. (I also got the new chef, George Fistrovich, which was a plus.) The white-clad waitstaff, white table linens, immense white columns, and the sheer white curtains that cover the walls (falling dramatically from the 28-foot ceiling) are the perfect backdrop for the self-consciously chic who drape the white leather chairs. Who are, in turn, the mirror for the culinary strivings of the place: high-priced, beautifully turned out, and occasionally just a little too slimly built.
Appetizer portions, especially, seemed anemic. A timbalelike mold of farm-raised prawns a la grecque was so artfully constructed that removing any of the ingredients was like pulling hair pins from a model's head A you didn't know which one might tumble the coif. In this case, the prawns, or lack thereof, proved the appetizer's downfall. Though plump and lobster-rich, only two pink shrimp dotted the dish, which for twelve bucks seemed skimpy. The remainder of the refreshing edifice was composed of pale green chicory, sliced olives, pieces of artichoke heart, tiny asparagus spears, pearl onions, and half an oven-dried tomato, all tossed in a lemony olive oil. Maine lobster salad was a better bargain, chunks of the succulent shellfish interspersed with chopped pears and strips of root vegetables and coated with a light vinaigrette. A chä#vre tortelli -- creamy pungent goat cheese encased in noodle dough -- was a companionable accent. For loads of cheese, though, the caesar salad proved to be the way to go. Parmesan cheese encrusted each leaf of crisp romaine like ice on a winter windowpane. A few croutons dappled the lettuce, but the real focus here was the dressing, whose anchovy-heavy fragrance was ideal.
Sauteed foie gras was the star starter, evoking the hedonism of its surroundings. Rich as Madonna, sleek and springy as tofu, the delicacy had been seared to shell pinkness and rested on a meaty broth featuring braised chickpeas, diced carrots, fresh green peas, and spinachlike strips of Swiss chard. Expertly prepared, this dish made a convert out of at least one skeptic at my table.
The Blue Door's menu lists three pasta dishes, priced more moderately than some of the entrees but just as filling. A serving of squid ink gnocchi comprised a few good handfuls of the pasta dumplings, halved teardrop tomatoes, and shredded leeks, with Maine lobster mixed throughout. A bland broth, though, lent very little flavor, and the gnocchi, whose shape and color made them reminiscent of prunes, were dense, hardly the soft, potato-and-flour clouds we expected.
Much better was a pair of ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes and soaking in a deep, balsamic-rich reduction, a hearty-in-attitude side dish for an entree of lamb loin. Sliced and fanned out on the jus-covered plate, the lamb itself was velvety and pungent, as satisfying as the finest filet mignon.
A fillet of cobia was inches-thick and pan-fried to perfection; white as our monochrome surroundings, the flesh was tender and flaky, though a lid of pasty tomatoes detracted a little from the fresh taste of the fish. The side dish, a molded concoction billed as fava bean and fried eggplant ratatouille, was actually a saute of the sweet vegetables, threaded through with tiny shreds of flash-fried leeks.