The Skinny on Social

Darn good food that’s darn good for you

We hear it over and over: Americans are too fat. Even the numbers are becoming familiar: 64 percent of the population is overweight, 30 percent of whom are obese. A recent 136-page report blames the nation's 900,000 restaurants and food-service establishments. The paper, prepared by an education group called the Keystone Center and funded by the Food and Drug Administration, notes Americans consume one-third of their calories outside the home; cites numerous studies that suggest a correlation between the simultaneous explosion of portion sizes and waistlines; and concludes that a voluntary curbing of calories-per-serving by the restaurant industry would help battle this endemic flab. The report addresses primarily fast-food and family eateries, because high-end dining establishments have long since leaned to a less-is-more philosophy — first via the nouvelle cuisine movement, and these days by way of increasingly popular "small plate" or "tasting" menus. It's a global trend locally embraced by Philippe Ruiz at Palme d'Or, by Michelle Bernstein at Michy's, and most recently by Social Miami at the Sagamore Hotel in South Beach.

Social's dining room occupies the right side of a long lobby in the sleek, chic hotel. Silver accents highlight the minimalist, hundred-seat, mostly monochromatic white setting, while the left lobby wall facing the restaurant displays a museumlike collection of photos and art installations. When empty of patrons, the area resembles a cross between an art gallery and the type of modern model dining setup you might encounter in an upscale furniture showroom. But when the clock hand nudges past nine, the space transforms into a buzzing, buoyant, and very social dinner club. An outdoor terrace is likewise defined by a stark white look, but it's too small an arena for such a bare-boned décor to succeed.

Social is operated by China Grill Management, a company that boasts an enviable track record in running successful contemporary restaurants here and in other major American cities — including this venue's popular sister, Social Hollywood, in Los Angeles. An integral element of CGM's winning formula is the emphasis on choosing talented chefs to help and helm its operations. To help: Michelle Bernstein is the chef consultant for both Social ventures. To helm: The Miami branch's executive chef is Sean Mohammed, who has worked in some of the nation's finest kitchens, including locally as sous chef at Blue Door. Social's location location location ain't bad either, sandwiched between the Delano, National, and Royal Palm hotels.

JOE ROCCO

Location Info

Map

Sagamore Hotel

1671 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: South Beach

Details

Open for breakfast daily 7:00 to 11:30 a.m.; lunch daily noon to 5:00 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Wednesday 7:00 to 11:00 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
The Sagamore Hotel, 1671 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 786-594-3344

The menu is categorized into "on ice," "cold," "warm," and "hot" dishes. Chilled selections such as tuna tartare, foie gras, and ceviche are styled as large appetizers, while heated items come with accompaniments and resemble small entrées. Most plates cost $10 to $16, and none exceeds $19. Each selection provides a sampling for two or three people, the idea being to order a bunch and dig in. So we did.

Three ceviches compose the iced options, and like so much of the food here, they brim with bright contrasts. We were especially impressed by the one stocked with tuna, ginger, and watermelon, the sweet, crunchy fruit a refreshing foil for small cuts of the fish soaked in sesame-soy-lime juice. Among cold choices are "millionaire's deviled eggs," the yolks enriched by truffle oil and crowned with a dab of osetra caviar; and milky slabs of burrata cheese enlivened by a spicy concassé of yellow tomatoes. Only an uninteresting chopped Greek salad disappointed.

A half-dozen warm offerings include Bernstein's signature croquetas, the thin, crisp crusts giving way to bursts of creamy blue cheese mellifluously matched with homemade fig jam. Tender conch receives the Michy's treatment, too, tossed with hot parsley-garlic butter and spilling from a pair of conch shells. If you hold these shells to your ear, you can hear the ocean say, "prepared just like escargots!" but then you'll need to take your top to the dry cleaner to remove the grease stains.

Hot plates arrived at the table willy-nilly, each filled with its share of frills and thrills. Two single-bone lamb chops were effectively teamed with a tangy pomegranate-mint glaze and "cinnamon-kissed" Israeli couscous, though the featured spice of the latter was intensely applied — more like French-kissed. Fabulously flaky black grouper braised with potatoes, carrots, and peas in green Malaysian curry sauce was sensational, served with slices of roti bread on the side. A trio of peppery "head on" shrimp as plump as bananas were cooked Louisiana-style, meaning with savory brown gravy and minibiscuits on the side. (Biscuits taste fresh only when first pulled from the oven, so Social might consider baking these per order.)

Rich oxtail stew wrapped in delicate ravioli skins? Cornmeal-crusted fish and scallops with chips, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce? Five meaty Korean-spiced chicken "lollipops" forged of wings and speckled with sesame seeds and hot pepper flakes? Yes, yes, yes. An oink of satisfaction as well for a square of braised pork belly, the lower level constructed of succulent meat, the jiggly top layer of fat capped by a decadent crackling of chicharrone. In keeping with the FDA's request for healthier restaurant food, the pork belly is supplemented by wok-fried bok choy. Seriously, it would not be a bad idea to offer a platter of this or some other green as vegetarian fare or for tables to share.

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