By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Pan-seared yellowtail suffered not from omissions but from substitutions. Red snapper, we were informed by the waiter, replaced the yellowtail, and proved to be a bit too mild for the delicate sauce made with crabmeat. And the accompanying mango-papaya salsa described on the menu turned out to be a chopped combination of cantaloupe and honeydew melon, which all but overwhelmed the fish. Out of the whole dish, a scoop of jasmine rice held the most fragrance.
Fortunately a roasted veal chop, sporting a tremendously long bone, had enough flavor for two entrees. Though a touch too rare, the musky meat mingled pleasantly with the creamy asparagus and wild mushroom risotto that supported it.
Long on atmosphere -- a piano bar tinkles nearby -- Dominique's was short on service. The maitre d' seemed at first surprised, then annoyed when diners showed up. Though it was a Saturday evening and we had a reservation, it took him several minutes to prepare our table, and the restaurant was only half full. And it's more than disconcerting to have a waiter who disappears for lengthy periods, only to reappear asking and answering his own question: "Everything all right? Good, good." Not a pleasant way to dine, especially when you're paying nearly 30 bucks for one of the meatier entrees. Dominique's clearly has the chops. It's their worth that's questionable.
1200 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 673-4343. Open 6:00 p.m. to midnight nightly.
The tourists have taken over Mezzanotte, the premier attraction in the theme park we call South Beach (the restaurant is now a chain, with a location in the Grove and more to come). Even on Monday night, flashbulbs, multiplied by the mirrored walls, pop with the frequency of a sound wave, so vacationers can show their friends the famous restaurant where models used to perform table dances for free (these days diners limit their gyrations to the aisles).
To be perfectly honest, I've never been partial to the overlighted bus-stop atmosphere, the supercilious service, the pricey mediocrity of the Italian fare. So I was really pleased when I went back this time: Though the lighting remains bright, Mezzanotte has mellowed. Waiters were polite and busboys attentive, prices didn't seem as high as I remembered them, and the food was meticulously prepared.
Broccoli soup was a delicious starter, hearty and appetite-stimulating at the same time. A creamless, garlicky red pepper broth featured verdant florets of the vegetable, as well as strands of angel hair pasta and just a touch of Parmesan cheese. Pastas in appetizer-size portions also looked like a good idea; we enjoyed delicate nuggets of gnocchi bathed in a Bolognese sauce. The ground beef and tomato in the gravy combined nicely with a melting sprinkle of mozzarella atop the soft potato dumplings.
That homemade mozzarella blanketed a tender main course of veal scaloppine. Pounded rounds of veal were breaded and topped with thin slices of eggplant, with tomato sauce and cheese layering the meat and vegetable like a casserole. Garlicked and salted sauteed spinach, a stalk of broccoli, and Parmesan-encrusted broiled potatoes added zip to the dish, which was a satisfying portion.
Calamari barcaiola was supple sliced baby squid sauteed in clam juice, garlic, oil, and red wine. This was a tasty seafood meal, with the addition of fresh green peas and chopped tomatoes providing panache. This main course doesn't come with a starch, however, and diners might want to consider ordering a side of angel hair pasta for an additional $5.50.
Tiramisu and zabaglione are pretty standard dessert choices. (A great capper to a Mezzanotte meal can be found right down the street at 1434 Washington Ave. in an incredibly authentic gelateria called Gelateria Bella.) Mezzanotte might be the number-one attraction on the SoBe tourist trail, but it's also a grand place for locals to dine.
Osteria del Teatro
1443 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 538-7850. Closed until September 25. Please call for hours.
Maybe you haven't noticed, but despite our notorious heat and humidity, some of Miami's finest restaurants are steaming up the joint with soup. Not cold soups like vichyssoise, gazpacho, or fruit purees, but broths, bisques, and veritable bowlfuls of stew.
This trend has not been lost on the venerable, award-winning Osteria del Teatro, where a different soup is offered every day (the list of about twenty specials changes daily as well). The potato concoction we ordered on a recent evening was so creamy and delicate it was hard to believe it had been made without a drop of dairy. The flavor and texture were unmatchable, the smattering of homemade croutons on top a lovely finish. (Smoked black bean is another perennial triumph.)
Osteria regulars who know the pink menu is hardly worth a glance focus instead on the first interchangeable white page, or on the blackboard, or on the waiter as he reels off the impossibly long list of specials. Though several of those are always available, their sauces change. Pan-seared chicken breast was sumptuous when sauteed with shallots and sun-dried tomatoes, the juices of the crisp yet moist white meat mingling with a superb champagne cream sauce.
Pastas were a treat too, big enough for a main meal. Black ink ravioli, stuffed with crabmeat and scallops in lobster sauce, was superlative, though the inky dye was absent (these babies were white as lobster meat). The ravioli was a sensual treat, plump with shellfish and bathed in an exceptionally light cream sauce.