French Seafood Satisfies

SoBe’s new Maison d’Azur is a welcome arrival.

Whelks and periwinkles are just two reasons to love Maison d'Azur, the sizzling new seafood brasserie at the Anglers Resort. The former are conchlike in texture, the "winkles" teeny and sweet, yet while de rigueur on seafood platters in France, these spiral-shell sea snails rarely crawl onto stateside menus. Their presence here exemplifies Maison's main enticement: Mediterranean seafood flown in daily and prepared with exquisite expertise.

The restaurant impresses in many more ways — make that in every single way, excepting the bread. At best, the Parker House-style dinner rolls were soft and innocuous; at worst, older buns were microwaved so that rigor mortis of the dough set in while I was eating them (and let it also be noted that on consecutive visits, I bit into olive pits hidden in an accompanying tapenade).

All else is very much alive at the Anglers Resort, which in the Thirties was one of South Beach's first Mediterranean revival hotels. The renovated property, pish-poshed with aplomb by local designer Wallace Tutt, re-premiered just more than a month ago. The boutique resort/condominium now flaunts four buildings accessed by trellised passageways and laced with lush gardens, one of which hosts an outdoor dining area. The main indoor room echoes a timeless, romantic brasserie, with wood floors, arched windows, champagne-color banquettes, and linen-draped tables each set with a candle and rose. Maison takes its name and cue from the Côte d'Azur, and it is so understatedly chic that it's easy to imagine the Riviera coast twinkling below. South Beach is as close to St. Tropez as America gets, so the fit feels natural — even if Washington Avenue isn't much to look at.

Joe Rocco

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The Angler's Boutique Resort

660 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: South Beach

Details

660 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-534-9600. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Sunday through Thursday 7 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

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The cuisine also approximates that of the French Med. Executive chef Didier Balluais orchestrates a brilliantly simple menu conceptualized by corporate chef Gwenaël Le Pape and the Fortier Group, a restaurant team with two other ethnically distinct entries in the trendy upscale dining market (including Loft in New York). Cocktails are one of Fortier's fortes, so Maison is an ideal spot for an exotic elixir.

It is even more well suited for partaking of pristine seafood such as Dover sole, John Dory, and Tasmanian ocean trout, each grilled and served with lemon and one of seven side sauces. No need to fret over unfamiliarity with the fish, for the staff is well versed in the fare. On one occasion, our waiter headed to the kitchen to check when the sardines had been delivered, and returned with news that they arrived that morning from Bretajne, a town close to Brittany, "with population around 180,000." I wanted to further inquire whether sardines were the village's main export, but my wife insisted we already had enough information. The same server suggested sauce vierge as a fitting accompaniment, and she was right. The lemony tang, with capers, tomatoes, and herbs, proved a vibrant foil for the assertive fish flavor of the five butterflied sardines. The same sauce likewise made a fine suitor for rouget (red mullet), another small species with high fat content. The sweet, nutty white fillets were presented like the sardines — butterflied, grilled, confidently herbed, and utterly delicious.

Caviar aficionados also have good reason to visit Maison. The big three crack open at $195 and pop at $450 (per ounce). Deluxe shellfish platters plied with prawns, crab legs, oysters, champagne/caviar shooters, and so forth, will also peel Ben Franklins from the wallet. Individual samplings are more affordable — whelks, periwinkles, and a half-dozen littleneck clams are $14 or less. Those with the dough should go with sweetly saline langoustines imported from Brittany (six for $65).

The budget-conscious needn't despair. Regular menu offerings are closer to earth, with salads and starters such as tuna tartare, smoked salmon, and duck spring rolls running $13 to $17. A few dollars more will deliver a plump lump crabcake effusively spiced with Old Bay and pooled in a coulis of roasted red pepper; or a chilled cylinder of sliced lobster meat, smoothed with avocado and bathed in sweet rhubarb dressing balanced by a bed of pungent watercress.

I didn't try the bouillabaisse this time around, but sampled soupe de poisson Marseillaise, a showstopping fish chowder with a saffron/tomato/herb base thickened with puréed rice. Alongside the soup were croutons with a ramekin of grated Gruyère, and another of riveting, rust-color rouille, a saffron aioli fired up with hot chilies. Catch this one.

Most fish dishes range from $32 to $39, but the rarities cost much more: John Dory is $68, Dover sole $72, turbot (for two) $95. Main plate options also include seared chicken breast, fusilli with smoked and fresh salmon, and steamed mussels with French fries, each for less than $24. Between the price extremes is a trio of pan-seared diver scallops big as Ping-Pong balls and bursting with sweetness against a rich, butter-laden backdrop of stewed leeks and champagne sauce spotted with salmon caviar.

Le steak frites brought prime strip loin, aged 45 days, deftly seasoned, and grilled to juicy perfection; accompanying béarnaise sauce was seductively sharpened with vinegar, tarragon, and cayenne. That said, a humbler hangar steak would have been preferable — not only because there is already upscale filet Perigourdin and Kobe filet ($65 per ounce) on the menu, nor solely because it is acknowledged as the cut to use for an authentic steak frites, but also because hangar is one of the most flavorful meats in existence. The frites, incidentally, were fresh and crisp.

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