Aria's High Notes

And minor notes too -- you make up the melody

If you shy away from red meats, there are five main courses from which to choose: free-range chicken with an olive-and-caper ragout, "zarzuela" of saffron seafood stew, yellowfin tuna, Chilean sea bass, and a scallop-salmon combo (they might consider adding a local fish). Didn't try the sea bass, but the tuna and salmon were ultrafresh and cooked to perfection. The seared, peppery yellowfin tuna was cut into a long rectangular shape and came atop a slightly wider rectangle of potato "confit," which tasted pretty much like a roasted potato. Ratatouille on the side was cooked the slow, old-fashioned way, meaning it was not brightly colored but densely flavored and extremely appetizing. The salmon was anchored by tarragon mashed potatoes and enhanced by four moist, meaty scallops. Goat cheese, in a somewhat melted state, contributed an effectively stimulating texture and taste to the fish and shellfish, as did a balsamic vinaigrette with crisped bacon and shallots.

Gourmands, foodies, and restaurant reviewers will have no trouble finding alluring items to choose from on the dessert menu, but the rest of the clientele here (mostly hotel guests and a few Key Biscayners) might have to go over the listing a few times before they come across anything that whets their appetite. Not everyone, in other words, is going to make the leap toward anise crème brélée with pineapple carpaccio and white-pepper ice cream. Matter of fact, of the diners seated around us, only one couple ordered dessert at all, and they shared it (I couldn't tell which they chose, but I did note that they didn't have the foggiest notion of how to eat it, needed to ask for a knife to cut it with, and seemed generally displeased with the whole ordeal).

The selection reads: "Delight in Mediterranean Cravings of ...," followed by the subheadings "quince," "citrus," "cocoa," "pineapple," and a "mare nostrum" (horse's nostril?) taster of five miniature treats. "Citrus" is the aforementioned deconstructed lemon tiramisu, which really does include a sour grapefruit-Amaretto marmalade. Actually ALL the desserts here, excepting the daily traditional tart, are decorative deconstructions, a series of separate pastry parts precisely placed on plates like stage props for teeny ballerinas. Quince Tatin, for instance, featured softened, caramelized wedges of the apple-pear-flavored fruit plopped atop a separately baked (perhaps a few days earlier) circle of puff pastry. On the side were a splash of Frangelico-vanilla sauce and chunks of praline, sticking up like icebergs from a pool of melted praline ice cream. The "cocoa" selection was organized like a coffee table, the top a thin square of shiny dark chocolate, the base a bittersweet disk of chocolate cake. Other pieces: white chocolate-Sambuca ice cream (again melted), a syrupy coffee emulsion, and a little chocolate doodad. I'd advise sticking to the daily tart -- on one occasion a raspberry custard pie, another time a thin apple tart.

Salmon! Scallops! And green stuff on top!
Steve Satterwhite
Salmon! Scallops! And green stuff on top!

Details

305-365-4500. Open daily for breakfast, 7:00 to 11:30 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; dinner 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. Sunday brunch served 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
In the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 415 Grand Bay Dr, Key Biscayne

So there you have it -- most of the components that make up Aria, strewn on the page like pieces of engine in a driveway. You, the reader, can assemble them in your head and then decide if the perceived sum of these parts might capture your fancy enough to make a drive over the Rickenbacker worthwhile. (If it has any bearing, the drive is quite pleasant.) Good luck.

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