Potatoes showed up again as an accompaniment to a superb pan-seared snapper fillet, although this time they appeared in an entirely different fashion: A warm Yukon gold potato salad had a tempting smoky perfume, its chunks of mellow potato neither grainy nor starchy. And a slightly sweeter, crisper potato, the boniato, was mashed and served under an inches-thick marinated pork loin, which dripped juice all over the plate.
Though it may seem as if Hamiltons is spud-crazy, potatoes don't accompany everything. A lovely-looking if somewhat bland portobello Napoleon starter comprised layers of grilled mushroom, red and yellow bell peppers, and mild bufala mozzarella. A roasted chicken main course used wild mushroom risotto for its starch. Scented with rosemary, the chicken was just a trifle dry, but the rice dish was perfectly cooked, the grains creamy but not disintegrating.
A mango cheesecake for dessert was wonderfully rich and tangy, though at ten dollars a pop I'm not sure the calories were worth it. Other desserts tend toward the Latin variety -- flan and tres leches -- as does the live music on weekend nights. Choose a Hamilton cigar, light up, and join the crowd on the dance floor for an experience somewhat reminiscent of pre-revolution Havana. The band, like the food, is significantly better than what you might get on a cruise ship.
I'm not much of a fan of celebrity restaurants. Too often the absentee star doesn't have a clue about the business, and certainly doesn't take a hands-on approach. As a result the staff can be undertrained, the food barely edible, and the appeal of dining in such places highly overrated. Actor-restaurateur Robert De Niro is a notable exception; his TriBeCa Grill in New York City is exquisitely run. George Hamilton, I'm pleased to note, joins De Niro in this select camp. So far. Hamilton owns two other namesake restaurants (in Pasadena, California, and Las Vegas), and is planning to open nine more this year. That sounds extremely ambitious. Overextension can cause a business to go down in flames or up in smoke.
400 SE 2nd Ave; 305-381-6160. Dinner Monday -- Thursday from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 6:00 p.m. until midnight.