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
It's a bit confusing but no more so than most liaisons formed in the heat and hustle of this town. Eric Milon, owner of the Living Room at the Strand (on Washington between Sixth and Seventh streets) joined forces with New York restaurateur Michel Castellano (Allegria and Castellano) and chef Michelle Bernstein (formerly of Tantra) to create another seductive dining experience in a space that briefly was Azura, before that Bice, and once, long ago, a nightclub called Woody's, owned by rocker Ron Wood.
The name "The Strand" has been co-opted for this new beachfront venture. And, like the name, the atmosphere is endearingly retro. The streetside dining rooms, the only ones open when we visited for dinner, evoked memories of Studio 54 but with modern touches. The metallic stamped ceilings, glitzy, disco-style lighting, polished wood-and-marble floors, and wooden tree-trunk pillars create a classy and intimate feel. Tables are well spaced and lighted from below, creating a floating, dreamy effect.
And though we were surprised to find the restaurant sparsely populated (only three other tables were occupied) when we arrived for our nine o'clock reservation on a Sunday night, we were seated at a table in the middle of the room. We were told all the banquettes along the wall were reserved. Another dramatic dining area behind the main room was occupied by a private party of about twenty well-dressed professionals. We were glad to find the menus already on the table in sleek, faux-crocodile envelopes, because we had waited more than ten minutes for a waiter to appear and offer us drinks.
Although we were quite hungry, we also were engrossed in catching up with our out-of-town friends, so we didn't focus on the complex menu long enough to decide on the entrées. One thing we were sure of was that we wanted to share a few appetizers while delving into the rest of the choices. When the waiter returned with our wine, I told him we were ready to place the first part of our order, but would like to get back to him about the entrées. "No, that's all right," he said. "I'll come back when you're ready."
"We are ready," I pleaded, "to place an appetizer order."
"It's not a good idea. It'll really mess up the kitchen. It's best if you just order everything at once," he sniffed. "I don't mind coming back."
As he strolled away, we all looked at one another and laughed. He doesn't mind? "South Beach hasn't changed," noted my former neighbor. We allowed ourselves to be bullied with the naive belief that our food would arrive more quickly and in the right order if we obeyed.
So in a matter of minutes we decided what we wanted, choosing from eleven elaborately described entrées including everything from squab to salmon and chicken breast to shepherd's pie. To his credit the waiter returned promptly to take it all down.
Still, from the time we arrived at the restaurant, it was more than an hour before we ate our first bite. And while some of that delay admittedly was caused by our chattiness, much of it was owing to the interminable lags in service. None of which could detract too terribly from the sublime creations that eventually did make their way out of the kitchen and on to our table.
My salad of organic greens with a gorgonzola vinaigrette and candied walnuts ($10), was worth the wait. An intriguing blend of sweet and tart, crunchy and creamy, the beautiful arrangement was highlighted by slices of pear, which had been soaked in champagne. The pungent accent of aged cheese complemented rather than overwhelmed the light greens and sugary nuts, which often happens with this classic combination.
Another wonderful interplay of textures and tastes arrived in the form of sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras served with caramelized shallots, parsnip purée, and a sweet brandy-spiked apple glaze ($19). The rich fig-color sauce was as thick as maple syrup and nearly as sweet, luscious to soak up with sour dough bread. The same sauce appeared on the delicious squab main course.
Unfortunately the lobster bisque ($9), with its deep amber color, clean briny aroma, and gorgeous presentation, including a spiny crawdad on top, suffered from the unforgivable delays. It arrived as tepid as sink water. Like a banana split left to melt at a birthday party, all the elements were there, it was just too late.