Catch a Rising Star

Azul

A duo of dramatically delicious duck treatments came on the same plate -- a leg slow-cooked for five hours with rose water, star anise, lemon grass, and ginger; and rare breast slices with nary a trace of fat. Hoisin plum sauce sweetly complemented the bird without cloying and also permeated pearls of Israeli couscous; fresh plums poached in plum wine, and soft, spongy rice buns rounded out the plate (those familiar with Chinese food will recognize these as steamed pork buns without the pork). Short ribs were less successful, mainly because anticipated Thai chilis added little in the way of piquancy. The slowly braised meat was otherwise tasty, succulently flaking off the bone into a savory brown beef-and soy-based sauce.

Desserts sound a lot better than they taste. Chilled fruit in mei-kui-lu wine is described as a "green tea frozen mosaique," which actually is a slab of frozen whipped cream flavored with green tea and dotted with colorful suspensions of frozen fruit. It was reminiscent of cheap ice cream, though not as sweet. A special one night, banana dumplings, featured a quartet of slightly greasy fried dough balls with a smidgen of banana in each, along with a portion of coconut ice cream barely larger than the free samples coaxed out of ice cream shops before one decides which flavor to choose. Chocolate petals are parceled out even more parsimoniously, the dessert composed of two paper-thin ellipse-shaped pieces of fine bitter chocolate, perhaps three inches in length; a coconut wafer of same size; and a puff each of creamy chocolate mousse and turmeric mandarin ice cream sandwiched in between. If not for rules of decorum, I could've popped the whole thing in my mouth and consumed it in one gluttonous gulp. A julienne of sweet potato and splashes of raspberry and passion fruit purées were added, I suppose to fill in blank spaces on the rectangular white plate.

If large sums of money are important to you, bypass the bar on the way to your table
Steve Satterwhite
If large sums of money are important to you, bypass the bar on the way to your table

Location Info

Map

Azul Restaurant

500 Brickell Key Dr.
Miami, FL 33131

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: Central Dade

Details

305-913-8288. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 3:00 p.m., dinner Monday to Saturday 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Closed Sundays.
In the Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Dr.

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Azul's cuisine, excepting desserts, was consistently fresh, high quality, and delectable; only the bland asparagus qualified as a dud. Yet while the menu is solidly conceptualized and the execution nearly faultless, just a few dishes drew the oohs and aahs that come about when flavors bravely soar into higher territory than even the loftiest of expectations. I've no qualms with the no-nonsense presentation, at times simply lovely, other times simply simple, but Bernstein's food seems more restrained than usual -- and I don't just mean the chilis being timidly applied. If she were to let loose and allow her cooking to be as bold as the drink prices, this could become one of the very best restaurants in town.

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