By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Sake-marinated black cod is served in faux-hot-pot form — meaning warm ham-hocked dashi broth gets poured over the fish as well as mushrooms, paper-thin cuts of carrots, and lotus root. An authentic hot pot features the broth cooking the vegetables, but here they are blanched beforehand. The buttery fish didn't really need foie gras seeped into it for added richness; it's a shame to torture a goose for so little return.
Duck breast is served in two thick, steak-like wedges. Our waiter suggested we order it medium, even though duck breast is generally regarded best when rare or medium-rare. We ordered the latter, and the meat, with crisp skin and full flavor, was on the dry side. Pan-fried Sicilian pistachio-crusted gnocchi seemed heavy and almost more like croquettes than dumplings. Baby root vegetables shared the plate, including buttons of inadvertently raw turnip, some purées, and sauce albuféra — usually a boosted velouté but here a chicken jus.
500 Brickell Key Dr.
Miami, FL 33131
Region: Central Dade
Pan-seared branzino fillet is served in a rather small bowl with braised fennel and Belgian endive, Marcona almonds, Spanish ham, a sumptuous potato-bacalao purée, a single plump and luscious sea scallop, and a thick red-pepper- (and almond-) based Catalonian romesco sauce. What a mess: The pile-up of ingredients and flavors collide like a multiple car crash. (The branzino, though, was fresh and faultless.)
Azul's wine program is one of Miami's elite. Overseen by sommelier Cynthia Betancourt, it features more than 700 labels — from classic vintages to current boutique releases. They don't come cheap, but neither does the food: Starters are $18 to $21, and entrées run $35 to $48 (with the steak going for $70). Valet parking with validation is still $13 — a rip-off that serves as a last impression when driving away after dinner.
The waitstaff is well trained in formal service, and guests are unquestionably pampered. Yet many in the crew perform like nervous Broadway stand-ins — sure of their lines and cues but hampered by a self-consciousness that they are not yet seasoned pros. On one occasion, we were served by a confident professional whose description of each dish was as detailed as Dickens. Other waiters were not nearly as informed, and there were too many "How was it?" queries lobbed our way between courses. Funny, some of the staffers are as formal and rote as butlers; others lapse into inappropriately informal banter — like commenting "Guess you didn't like that much!" when picking up an empty plate.
There were also too many service lapses for so haute a setting. Once, when we dined early and the room was mostly empty, a cluster of waiters, including ours, stood around chatting while we waited to place our order. On another, busier visit, we waited quite awhile for empty water glasses to be replenished, and later for empty entrée plates to be removed; we sat patiently once again for dessert menus to arrive.
On the other hand, we enjoyed the desserts. What can only be called a "shroud" of ethereally light hazelnut "cloud cake" is soaked with passionfruit syrup and served with thin rectangles of pineapple, hazelnuts, and a terrific mango-vanilla sorbet. Goat cheese/almond cake is a creamy cylinder of tart/sweet cheesecake atop a base of dense, almost cookie-like almond cake, with a scoop of morello cherry-pistachio ice cream and fresh raspberries studded with pumpkin seeds served alongside.
That the two-cake cylinder is served on its side for no apparent reason — other than making it roll around as you stab at it with your fork — is emblematic of what bugs me about this place. Even the most sublime flavors can be undermined by too many intricate touches.