Reshaping South Beach

As chefs shift, owners settle down, along with their prices

Some restaurants are upgrading -- Dab Haus has a spiffy second home only a few feet away from its original Washington Avenue U-boatique spot, and Nemo's new chef Mike Sabin, who was the first cook hired under erstwhile chef-owner Michael Schwartz in 1995, has returned to impress us all with his specialties such as creamy sunchoke and salsify soup with golden Osetra caviar. Others are working on becoming less visible: Sources tell me Tantra, in an attempt to comply with a long-ignored code, has dropped about 70 illegal seats from the floor plan. The reduction of covers, though, hasn't stopped chef Daphne Macias from following Willis Loughhead, now at Bizcaya in the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, out the door. Macias will be running the ovens at Joia instead. She will debut at the restaurant on November 12 -- coincidentally the same day as her eleventh wedding anniversary.

And in the game of what other elsewhere-based restaurants can open on South Beach before the long-anticipated Cafeteria, Novecento and Flûte may be locked in a tie for first place. Novecento, a three-square, 24-7 bistro, will debut in the old Biga spot on Washington Avenue and 11th Street, with 60 seats inside and another 20 outside. Owner Hector Rolotti, who looks to be decorating the interior with South American antiques, promises an early-December launch. In the meantime, the suggestively named Flûte -- get your mind out of the wind instrument, I'm talking about the champagne glass -- is so far on target for February. This upmarket bar, profiling the bubbly, is set to open in the Portofino Towers across from Joe's Stone Crab. And proprietor Herve Rousseau could have just the ticket for a tipple and a nibble while you wait the requisite two hours for four claws.

Unless, of course, you consider champagne and stone crabs, like South Beach itself, a bad investment. And you can take that to the bank, the mortgage company, and the realtor.

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