Restaurant 101

Then there were snarls in the execution. The aforementioned mahi-mahi was a glorified fish 'n' chips dinner, the deep-fried dolphin as brown as a weathered fisherman and as oily as a wet slicker, and it came topped with tartar sauce. A main course of seared salmon, served over garlic mashed potatoes, was as cold and pasty as Play-Doh, and the fried leeks sprinkled over it were soggy. A fruity mango-cucumber vinaigrette couldn't save the dish. Grilled tuna steak, garnished with piquant chorizo, was too well-done; it also was crosshatched with an unpleasant charring. On the other hand, a grilled sirloin was juicy and nicely complemented by tamarind ketchup and shoestring onions.

Subsequent meals at Islands Cafe proved the place has potential, provided the A students do the cooking. A pleasing crab quesadilla appetizer consisted of crisp flour tortillas stuffed with crab and jack cheese and topped with sour cream, chopped cilantro, and musky mango salsa. Terrific crisp dumplings, another appetizer, were lightly pan-fried pot stickers filled with fragrant minced pork. A barbecued portobello sandwich was excellent, the grilled jumbo mushroom cap melding with cheddar cheese, onion shoestrings, and ancho chile-flavored mayonnaise.

If in doubt, order salads. Where the tuna main course was overdone, the medallions of fish placed over a soothing soba noodle salad were beautifully pink, and the dish's soy-ginger dressing was subtle. A chopped salad comprising chunks of roasted turkey, hearts of palm, tomato, feta cheese, chickpeas, and citrus vinaigrette was fresh and delicious. Grilled jerk chicken salad was inventive, the greens decorated with diced apple, red onion, kidney beans, grilled rings of fresh pineapple, and a sweet brown sugar dressing.

The wine list offers a tempting selection of California and international vintages; the Markham sauvignon blanc we tried made for a smart choice at $20. Sweets also deserve good grades. The students whip up a fluffy chocolate mousse, a rich rum brownie, and a spicy carrot cake. Still, I must level a charge. I've been a teacher my entire adult life; as a result, I appreciate the intense challenges of the profession. I've also always resented intrusive nonprofessionals who judge the quality of teaching only by a student's performance. But after poking through what appeared to be frozen vegetables and boxed crackers, I have to ask: Just what are we teaching our kids these days?

Islands Cafe (in Bay Harbor Inn) 9601 E Bay Harbor Dr, Bay Harbor Islands; 305-868-4141. Lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. till 10:00 p.m; Sunday brunch from 11:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m.

Dumplings
$4.75
Portobello sandwich
$6.00
Jerk chicken salad
$7.00
Plantain-crusted mahi-mahi
$14.00
Baby lamb chops
$18.50

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