Becoming Bistro

Biscayne's new bistro has a bit of everything, from books and deli to good and not so good

Salad choices are extensive at 5061, though oddly limited and disappointing at the deli's "mixed salad" bar. (The eatery and deli are confusingly semiseparated, with cross-space ordering possible with some dishes but not others.) At any rate the eatery's salad possibilities ranged from simple to "specialty salads," like ginger-spiked seaweed shrimp and various assorted plates like a Mediterranean with hummus, tabbouleh, and so on. Both salads I tried -- a "Home's Favorite" (avocado, tomato, cucumbers, and onion supplemented with grilled fish) and the classic Francophile "Curley" (frisée with lardons, croutons, and a poached egg) -- were wonderful, especially owing to a very accommodating waiter who encouraged us to sample as many salad dressings as we wanted. I'd advise diners not to miss Khalil pomegranate sauce, a bright-red tart/sweet treat that our waiter described as "an original creation of the chef." Which chef is unclear since, according to 5061's press material, the chefs are named Jean, Didier, and Antonio. But good going, Khalil, whoever you are; this dressing would perk up almost anything.

Including 5061's greens-garnished homemade crabcake, a generous patty of the old-fashioned sort, aggressively flavored with some celery-salt-heavy condiment, hot chili, and quite a quantity of salty capers. A grain mustard-mayo sauce, while pleasant, was too bland to balance so much seasoning. Fortunately Khalil's fruity tang did the trick.

While much of 5061's menu concentrates on light bites, there also are dinner entrées: seven pastas, seven meat/poultry plates, and a selection of fish and shellfish that's not as big as it looks since some of the thirteen listed items (pompano and lobster on our visits) aren't always available. Most of the fish, though, can be customized, and sauces range from tartar to internationally accented exotica like rouille or tapenade. The blackened salmon was excellent -- inside moist with a slightly still-red center, outside spiced with a protective coating that was just salty enough and surprisingly subtle compared with the majority of "blackened" fish found in restaurants. Also terrific for the same reasons was roasted free-range chicken. As Julia Child lamented in her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, even a minute of overcooking can toughen and dry out a chicken breast, but 5061's impressive half chicken featured dark meat that was done well, while the delicate white meat remained tender, springy, and delectably juicy. All entrées come with a small salad of fennel, onion, julienne carrots and beets, daikon, and pea sprouts -- undressed, so ask for Khalil sauce.

Biscayne Boulevard, busy shrugging off its sleazy motel rep, now has a south-of-France taste -- on a good day
Steve Satterwhite
Biscayne Boulevard, busy shrugging off its sleazy motel rep, now has a south-of-France taste -- on a good day

Details

305-756-5051. Eatery open Sunday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11:30 p.m.; deli open daily 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
5061-75 Biscayne Blvd

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On a first visit, dessert, an ice cream-almond crêpe, proved pure overkill. Expecting a freshly made, delicate, thin pancake garnished sparely with ice cream and nuts, I was floored to be confronted by a giant cocoa-covered mound. The quantity of vanilla ice cream under all the chocolate and almonds would've fed a football team. A subsequent visit's apple tart, though, was an authentic French tarte Tatin: buttery-rich pastry topped with thin-sliced, cooked but still crisp apples.

As for 5061's books, they too were a mixed bag. The small selection housed upstairs consisted mainly of travel-oriented coffee-table volumes, many of them hard-to-find-here imports -- beautiful things. But too beautiful, I fear, to be appropriate tabletop reading -- one of the few items that would not be improved by a shot of Khalil sauce.

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