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
I was tempted to stick with the cool, beautiful textures, which are presented so temptingly on the list of appetizers: watercress mousse wrapped in a pancake and covered with Gorgonzola cheese sauce; "crabavocat," avocado guacamole with fresh crab mousse and tomato coulis; pan-seared foie gras "exotica" with jicama, kumquats, and star fruit; salad poupre, a royalty-hued combination of red endive, radicchio, lola rossa, red oak leaves, shrimp, smoked salmon, purple potato, peanuts, shaved Parmesan, and foie gras. We ultimately chose a salad of poached Maine lobster, which was attractive and refreshing. The terrine-shaped mold of lobster and tomatoes was topped with a curly proliferation of carrots, daikon, and beets; the spicy sesame oil vinaigrette with which it was dressed gave it a subtle Asian flair.
The lobster theme carries over to the entrees, where a ragout of the Maine crustacean stars in a gingery coconut milk broth. Lobster meat, peas, and asparagus were perfectly poached, scented aromatically with lemon grass and mixed with rice, and lidded with a rice flour pancake garnished with a large stalk of rosemary and a piece of the bright-red lobster shell. The construction was delicious crumbled into the stew, an upscale oyster cracker in a sophisticated chowder.
The first three main course choices listed are fish dishes, and after trying two of them, I realized why Troisgros rates his fish recipes tops. I have rarely had Chilean sea bass so ethereal and translucent. A brown butter sauce added richness without masking the fish's delicate flavor; underneath, an unusual sauteed combination of cashews, peanuts, and raisins was flavored with garlic, lime, and fresh rosemary. Roasted fresh hearts of palm, stalks without the tough fiber, provided an alternative to a starch for this entree.
The quality of a salmon fillet was inspiring, as was the preparation. The moist, flaky pink flesh was rubbed with a melting aioli and served on a bed of toasted angel-hair pasta, like pan-fried Chinese noodles. The pasta, softened by the fish and sauce in some places and delightfully crisp in others, was shot through with diced tomatoes, black olives, and fresh basil.
The small menu doesn't allow for a ton of options, but poultry lovers do get to choose between duck breast with passion fruit and apple puree and free-range chicken breast in a bread crust with Chinese cabbage, bananas, raisins, and an almond galette. Meat eaters can make do with filet mignon in a cabernet sauce with a yuca biscuit and a mache salad, or grilled pork chops marinated in achiote and lime juice. I enjoyed the latter, which was actually a single juicy double pork chop. The pork, grilled medium-rare to order, was just a little too charred on the exterior for my taste, but it was presented artistically, rimmed by a luscious boniato puree. The meat and potatoes were uplift-ed with a wine-dark, curry-scented sauce, musky chanterelle mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and a single piece of battered, deep-fried Chinese okra (longer and thinner than Louisiana okra, hexagonal rather than round).
I love the way the menu ends -- with a simple "Thank You." And I appreciate how the fare lives up to the monetary investment the diner is required to make (appetizers range from twelve to seventeen bucks, while main courses start at twenty-two and top out at twenty-eight dollars). In short, it's worth it. But I draw the line at nine-dollar desserts -- that's bill-padding if I've ever seen it. And I wasn't terribly impressed with what I paid for. A tatin of apple, banana, and mango was an unremarkable candied tart with filling that reminded me of chutney. (I did, however, like the mango sorbet that topped it.) And a bitter-chocolate tart had a good dark chocolate flavor and dense consistency that contrasted nicely with the partnering coconut sorbet, but a too-soft crust was a major detraction. Had I gone just for dessert, I might have come to the conclusion that once again the Blue Door, draped as always in floor-to-ceiling white tapestries and linens, was all hype and price, no substance.
Fortunately, the influence of Troisgros and the expertise of Salonsky ensure that this is not a case of la mame chose. And China Grill's management has shaped up the staff. If only they'd do something about the shallow, invisible step that leads from the terrace to the dining room. Two years ago when the restaurant first opened, the only entertainment I got from dinner was watching stork-legged supermodels trip. Now that the clientele has become less self-impressed, it pains me just a little (but still makes me giggle) to see folks wind up on the floor. Aside from dessert, the supposition that the floor stays at the same elevation is just about the only false expectation left in the place.
1685 Collins Ave (in the Delano Hotel), Miami Beach; 674-6400. Breakfast and lunch daily from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Dinner Sunday -- Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday until 2:00 a.m.
Chilean sea bass
Ragout of Maine lobster