Symcha's: solid but pricey

Venezuelan restaurateur Symcha Zylberman's first name means "happiness" in Hebrew. But on a Tuesday night at 7 o'clock, his charmingly landscaped, oversize courtyard across the street from Joe's Stone Crab in South Beach is empty. He's at the host stand looking surprised to see us. Though the place opens at 6, the votive candles on each table remain unlit and the bar is still dark.

We are alone until around 7:45, when a few other diners stroll in. Then, 15 to 30 minutes later, a party of regulars appears. But for the most part, things are exceedingly quiet. A few days later, on a Friday, we return at 9 p.m. to a notably livelier scene. Zylberman sits at patrons' tables while kibitzing, cheek-kissing, and shooting smiles even to newcomers. Now he seems happy.

The sectioned, 40-seat dining area exudes warmth and rustic elegance, with wooden planked floors and thickly beamed ceilings. Chandeliers create a cozy glow. The walls are made of inlaid stone, reminiscent of a fancy European ski lodge. Taupe-linen-backed chairs and rich brocade banquettes packed with pillows are both attractive and comfortable. It's a room that makes you want to return often.

Creekstone Farms beef tenderloin carpaccio
Carlos Perez
Creekstone Farms beef tenderloin carpaccio

Location Info

Map

Symcha's

22 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: South Beach

Details

22 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-604-0000; symchas.com Dinner daily 6 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday until midnight.

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If only the food did the same.

Executive chef Joshua Wahler, a Miami native who was "fired" by Gordon Ramsay on the third season of Hell's Kitchen, spent time at 5300 Chop House and Kung Fu Kitchen & Sushi at the Catalina Hotel. He plates the food carefully, taking appropriate measures to ensure that pricey dishes exit the kitchen dressed to kill.

To start, a tasty house-made garlic and shallot butter accompanied crusty white bread and a multigrain minibaguette studded with whole cranberries. Appetizers included a seafood ceviche served atop a smooth slab of pink Himalayan salt ($16), veal sweetbreads with minted guacamole ($22), and cream of tomato soup ($12). A pan-seared crab cake ($23) proved terribly disappointing. Beautiful jumbo lump blue crab meat was concentrated in the center, enclosed in what tasted like wet Wonderbread. The spongy coating lacked any trace of a proper sear. A side of tarragon aioli and a smoky bacon sauce fragrant with lemongrass weren't sufficient to overcome the core deficiencies.

An order of Niman Ranch pork belly ($14) was dry and improperly rendered with a stringy texture. Alas, the "braising demi" beneath was more tomato-gravy than reduced jus. Both the crab cake and pork belly were garnished with minced red and yellow pepper, leading us to wonder if those items were added to the plate for nothing more than color. Creekstone Farms beef tenderloin carpaccio ($14) was a favorite at the table, although pickled mushrooms were so finely diced they got lost. Thinly sliced meat melted with every bite, and crowning rings of crisp shallots provided the right textural balance.

A full bar offers signature cocktails such as a pear version of the classic Bellini ($14) and "Forever Young" ($16), made with an açaí spirit and blueberries. Wine by the glass is decently priced; whites hail from California, and reds offer a more global perspective. A $10 rosé from the Rhone Valley had a pleasantly dry finish and enough heft; a Simi Sonoma Cabernet for $11 paired well with heavier menu selections.

Entrées didn't quite live up to their price point. Though a garlic-and-herb-braised Kurobuta pork shank (listed at $34, though we were charged only $29, a fortunate error that stumped our server) easily fell from the bone, the tender flesh lacked depth of flavor. The "crispy pork crackle" turned out to be a disturbing cut of thick, greasy pork skin. One bite delivered an unpleasant gelatinous oozing of fat that was difficult to swallow. Diver sea scallops capped by a nest of micro-chives ($29) were cooked perfectly. However, a garnish of tomato and onion chutney eliminated the critical sear and left the mollusks a bit soggy. Our "potato hash" was, in fact, triangular potato pancakes. During cooking, the center of the triangles must have mysteriously vaporized, leaving a crisp yet empty shell. Both entrées suffered from a single note of seasoning. The scallops were overwhelmed by the particular taste of saffron in their leek cream sauce, while the shank was mostly a canvas for the red-wine reduction.

Other options include half-rack of lamb ($45), cachaça-marinated Chilean sea bass ($39), and veal osso buco braised in Chardonnay ($39). All of the produce and proteins are flawlessly sourced from places such as Tanglewood Farms and Sterling Silver Premium Beef, but they somehow underwhelm on the plate.

Sides are a standout here. The praiseworthy truffled polenta ($9) is creamy and salty, with just a touch of Parmesan. It's a bit slick with oil but feels wicked, like indulging in something not necessarily good for you. Brussels sprouts were smoky and crisply blackened, with chunks of Nueske's bacon and whole cipollini onions.

Service was generally attentive. Our water glasses were always full and the table was repeatedly swept clean. On our first visit, the server was polite, but when queried about specifics such as seasonings and components, he floundered and delivered responses right off the menu descriptions. When it came time for dessert, he forgot to return to the table for our order. Luckily, one of his colleagues eventually stepped in. Another dining experience began with high hopes. After our waiter explained the day's specials in loving detail, we anticipated more dedicated service but were sadly mistaken. He soon vanished after promising he would take care of us that evening. Another waiter eventually appeared. It was like getting dumped on a blind date.

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8 comments
Chris K.
Chris K.

This lady calls herself a food critic? She ripped the whole article from Victoria Pesce Elliot's article in the Miami Herald and gave it a negative twist. I would be embarrassed to have this lady work for me.

Check out the real article:

http://www.miamiherald.com/201...

Fabulous Foodie
Fabulous Foodie

I've been to Symcha's on various occasions and I could honestly say I've never had a bad experience. Is it pricey? Absolutely but hey this restaurant is not for the average Joe. You can't expect something that looks so nice to be cheap. As we all know beauty has its price and so does good food!

With reviews like this one it's no wonder Miami isn't known for its fine dining. The reviewers don't even know what that means! I lived in Manhattan for 2 years and in Paris for another 2 and I can tell you, Symcha's would/will work at either of those two cities because they are known for their fine dining, not like Miami known for its uneducated palate.

Cata
Cata

I agree with the review. The owner was a bit weird.

Harmil
Harmil

If being friendly, concerned about your dining experience, soliciting your feed back regarding the food and service is "a bit weird", then I suggest your sticking with the Olive Garden or more appropriate, Burger King where they really don't care how you want it!. It is unfortunate that we have become so hardeende to bad and indifferent service at restaurants that we think it "weird" when a business owner actually is concerned with your dining experience.

Harmil
Harmil

It is unfortunate that the reviewer did not enjoy the main dishes or service. The experience of our party of 4 was just the opposite. Our food was extremely tasty and enjoyed by all. The service was excellent and our server was not MIA. The wine recommended by Anna, Symcha's co-host, was excellent. Like the reviewer we loved the sides and the fabulous deserts. The taste of food is dependent on ones body chemistry, similar to how perfume takes on a different aroma on each individual. Unfortunately since we live in the hinterlands of Davie, we can only visit on special occasions. Our fellow diners live on Miami Beach and have gone back numerous times with other friends and have always been rewarded with a great dining experience. By the way, the reviewer in the Miami Herald had a similar great experience as our party. Food like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Miamiarh
Miamiarh

I also tried this place and was greatly disappointed. I'll be surprised if it is still around in 6 months!

Kelly
Kelly

Well... sorry to tell you, you will be very surprised. It is understandable when you find that you can't afford not only economically a fun sophisticated classy place but also that you feel out of place in such a classy environment....you should go to a McDonald's. You can go there with the future convict that your friends are talking about as they say you are a sell out; to the point that when you will walk or drive by Symcha's in the future your envy and lack of class will eat you alive.

 
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