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By Bill Citara
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We lost interest in the shrimp as soon as we tasted the charcoaled bobwhite quail. Also known as partridge, this species is meatier than one might expect, a healthy portion of mild game bird. Quartered over an earthy combination of woodsy morel mushrooms and potatoes (sweet and white) minced to look like risotto, the quail also featured two ingredients that have begun making a comeback in forward-thinking restaurants: Coiled fiddlehead ferns, which according to Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables author Elizabeth Schneider are not one particular species but rather a young growth stage of any fern (and which have also been found to be a carcinogen), were sauteed to peak flavor, slightly bitter like endive with a snap like green beans. And ramps (also known as wild leeks and harvested only from March to June) were grilled and presented whole, resembling scallions in both flavor and appearance.
Main courses were exemplary, particularly the rose wine duck. Riess makes this Vietnamese style: Glazed with a rose wine (a high-alcohol wine actually made from roses), maple syrup, and chipotle marinade, then sauced with tamarind and ginger, the medium-rare duck breast was at once succulent and hearty, texturally like a perfect filet mignon. The two plump legs were also ideally cooked, slow-roasted to a lovely crisp-skinned juiciness. Whole baby carrots and corn, along with cinnamon-scented cashew rice, were fragrant with soy sauce and sesame oil.
Australian lamb loin was a richer choice, five inch-thick boneless coins of musky meat crusted with goat cheese atop a fennel root "marmalade" and boiled fava beans. The entree was accompanied by dollops of an intense, almost fruity reduction of pitted Provence olives and three sumptuous gnocchi fashioned from butternut squash.
4 Grove Isle Drive
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
Category: Hotels and Resorts
Region: Coconut Grove
Mild-mannered snapper made no great impression after the vibrant duck and lamb, but the quieter palate will appreciate its subtlety. Breaded and fried, the fish was delicate yellowtail dressed with half-tones of lemon grass and ginger (a squeeze from the garnishing wedges of lime and lemon provided most of the flavor). Coconut rice didn't taste much like coconut but had a light appeal, brightened with diced red bell pepper. A smoky, woody aroma brought our attention to a hearts-of-palm side dish, stewed with tomatoes.
We were bemoaning the loss of some diners who paid their bill and left -- more of our flesh for the mosquitoes to feed on, less of theirs -- but decided to stick it out for dessert. Good thing, too. Griggs has a great hand with homemade ice cream, and he cranked out a banana-chocolate chip variety that was generously scooped into a wonderful almond tuile. Also notable was the vanilla ice cream and whole fruit compote that partnered a warm blueberry napoleon, though we found the round, flat so-called napoleon a little grainy.
Although not so much is new since Mark's days, Grove Isle seems definitively to have improved in at least one aspect: a less-showy grade of clientele. The former version was always jammed with a flash-your-money-clip crowd of businessmen with rented companions. A recent advertisement about the restaurant alludes to Riess and Griggs: "Perhaps you should discover these two before they get attitudes." A better idea would be to leave your own at home.
But bring the insect repellent.
4 Grove Isle Dr (in the Grove Isle Club & Resort); 857-5007. Open daily for breakfast and lunch from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and for dinner from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m. (until 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday).
Australian lamb loin
Banana-chocolate chip ice cream