The up-and-down nature of the meal continued with a main course of seafood risotto ($24.95). The huge portion of arborio rice was rife with squid, jumbo shrimp, scallops, and a couple of giant clams. Parmesan cheese was brought on the side -- a nice touch. But the risotto itself was so salty that it was inedible; we had to send it back.
A gazpacho con langosta starter ($7.95) was also terrible, though we kept this one, having no specific complaint other than the fact that we didn't like it. The puree of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers was too thick, stalky with celery, and served at room temperature rather than chilled. Its central ingredients, white beans and chunks of Florida lobster tail, were al dente (the beans) and tough (the lobster), and the blandness of both did nothing to unite the rest of the ingredients.
That said, a pair of appetizers was the highlight of the night. Billed on the menu as plural but appearing on the plate in the singular, a Beach House crabcake was moist and flavorful ($11.95). Shredded crab, red bell peppers, and onions had been formed into a fluffy patty and doused with a jalapeno tartar sauce; a frill of fried sweet potato matchsticks added crunch. Fried calamari was the other big winner, tender squid battered and deep-fried to a golden brown and served atop a puddle of tasty marinara sauce.
A duo of desserts countered those successes. A chocolate mousse timbale was grainy with undissolved sugar; not even a fresh berry sauce, chunky with strawberries and blueberries, could rescue it. The same sauce garnished "French toast," two very un-French toastlike cakes, griddled and sandwiching vanilla ice cream. These were warm but tough, as if they had been fried earlier and then reheated.
Service was solicitous and soothing. Outdoor and indoor bars provide drinking options, and a Key West attitude greets all manner of clientele in all manner of dress (and that includes bathing suits). I also loved the atmosphere -- a sophisticated blue-and-yellow nautical color scheme bounces off a cool tiled floor and fabulous ceiling fans shaped like hand-held feather fans from the Twenties. And if this resort didn't allow us to make up for expensive and iffy entrees at the blackjack tables, at least we left with the confidence that when we returned we'd be able to bet wisely on crabcakes, salads, and pina coladas and come away comfortably ahead.
Bal Harbour Beach House
(in the Bal Harbour Beach Resort) 9701 Collins Ave, Bal Harbour; 865-7511. Lunch and dinner daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.