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
We arrived one Thursday evening, around 8:00, during what is considered peak season on the Beach. The restaurant was empty. Not to quibble with those who would chalk this up to an inevitable ill-fortuitous fate, but, just for the record, chef McNulty had the night off. Guess all those diamonds and stars make for such lofty laurels that the urge to rest on them is irresistible. No matter: We sat outside and enjoyed a mesmerizing view of the ludicrously long and narrow National pool, which is lined on both sides by identically perfect palm trees.
The dinner menu offers two salads, five appetizers, and eight entrées. There are no soups or sides, yet the well-balanced variety of fish, meat, and poultry dishes should provide enough choices for anyone tolerant of Latin- and Caribbean-influenced food. The best starter was a jumbo dome of homemade ravioli filled with portobello mushrooms ($13), which sat in a bowl of bright green "essence" of sweet peas. Shavings of sharp Manchego cheese and a mild infusion of opal basil added just the right flavors, though the pasta could have been thinner and more delicate. Less successful was a singular plump scallop wrapped in two split and overcooked shrimp, paired with al dente lentils marred by the salty intrusion of too much prosciutto. Sweet dabs of minced tropical fruit helped soften the salinity somewhat. The most intriguing-sounding starter was "Island spiced scented Okeechobee frog's legs" ($14), but the spice and scent were that of a barbecue sauce not much different from a bottled brand. Still the four meaty legs weren't bad, nor were the "roasted corn and frizzled onions" on the side, a mix of fresh corn and okra and a few crisply crusted onion rings.
Main courses, like the appetizers, are for the most part competently prepared, but modern fusion cuisine like this should contain an innovative explosion of flavors, especially when you claim to be "setting the standard of excellence." Some items are indeed inventive, but of all the dishes sampled, only the mojo-marinated duck entrée ($26) kicked off any culinary fireworks. "Pulled" strips of the robustly flavored bird, compressed into the shape of a hockey puck, were flecked with specks of golden pineapple, which contributed occasional bursts of sweetness. Paper-thin slices of cabbage atop the duck puck weren't piquant enough to qualify as a "fiery slaw," but were deliciously tinged with lime juice and cilantro and brightly complemented the dish. Three measly slices of cleanly fried plantain provided the starch.
Ahi tuna tempura ($27) is prepared by having asparagus spears stuck into a sizable hunk of the fish, dipping it into a light and zesty batter, and plunging it into hot oil. The presentation is unusual and not unattractive, the tuna cut in half diagonally and served in two wedges, asparagus tips protruding from the sides, with crimini mushrooms, three strips of bok choy, and dabs of a rich balsamic-port wine glaze scattered about the plate. I think it would have worked better, though, with three or four smaller slices of fish individually battered and fried, which would pair tasty tempura with tuna in every forkful. Also the asparagus, mushrooms, and a real piece of bok choy that one could actually savor, as well as a dipping bowl of the sauce, would all have been more practical, if less dazzling, served on the side. No such rearrangement could improve the lamb shank, tough and dry with a "cola nut BBQ" sauce similar to that on the frog's legs, only cooked down to a sticky, unpleasant syrup. A "warm potato salad" on the side was nothing but four quarters of a roasted new potato.