660 at the Angler's: Loud but tasty
Orrechiette with asparagus pesto sauce
It's a sliver of a restaurant located in a discreet, classic Mediterranean revival hotel on South Beach. The little dining room of 660 at the Angler's is composed of just 16 seats set on the left side of the hotel entrance. Tables are so close together that one of them is inaccessible to waiters unless diners at two other tables move their seats. Otherwise, though, it's a cozy, peaceful space — or would be if a larger bar/lounge area (formerly the dining room of prior tenant Maison d'Azur) weren't located just a few feet away. On one occasion, a cocktail gathering was taking place there, replete with boisterous chatter and thumping party tunes. When the music stopped so someone could make a speech, diners in the restaurant felt compelled to either whisper or not talk at all. It lasted only a few minutes, and then the annoying soundtrack returned. So much for the menu's invitation "to wander back through time when the pace was a little slower..."
On a return visit, the lounge was tranquil, but those seeking the quiescent days of yesteryear should nevertheless consider sitting at a table on the canopied outdoor terrace (admittedly a sticky proposition these days).
Young chef Giorgio Rapicavoli has assembled a mostly Mediterranean menu introduced by 16 "small bites and starters." They run the gamut from tuna tiradito to steak "tar tar" to hand-cut French fries to gazpacho Andaluz. The last, capped with crisp panko crumbs and goosed with fruity olive oil, touted an almost shockingly silky consistency and ideally balanced flavors touched with just the right vinegary tang — damn near a perfect gazpacho.
We also liked a fresh wedge of romaine lettuce colored, flavored, and textured with red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, cubes of Gorgonzola cheese, and thin, short lengths of applewood-smoked bacon. Buttermilk ranch dressing coated the bright, refreshing assemblage. We would only note that good quality bacon is best served in thick slices or cubed form so the superior flavor can come through.
We didn't try zucchini bruschetta, crowned with fried basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, and a fried egg, but we noticed a gentleman seated at a closely adjoining table struggling mightily to cut the thick, toasted, but still pliable baguette round that formed the base. The only tough part of eating meaty Peking duck wings is the sticky nature of the sweet hoisin-based glaze. The dish would have been better had the wings not been lukewarm.
A generous two-inch-high square of Snake River Farms pork belly likewise arrived with a sweet glaze, this one called "Nancy's BBQ Sauce." All of the familiar belly attributes were present: rich, fatty, tender, and flavorful. The pork came plunked atop "Vermont cheddar creamed corn with crispy shallots" that tasted suspiciously like plain corn with crispy shallots.
Two risotti, three pastas, and five protein-anchored entrées make up the main plate selections. Malbec risotto with bacon, peas, and sage sounded alluring, as did truffled pasta carbonara, but we ended up getting hooked by the notion of orrechiette with asparagus pesto. The cap-shaped pasta came coated with a pleasing Parmesan-garlic-asparagus-basil paste that blended beautifully with slices of fried prosciutto and neat, tiny cubes of fried potatoes. You won't find many pasta dishes this distinctively tasty.
Four sweet, plump, butter-roasted sea scallops came gorgeously bronzed, each propped on blistered corn kernels flecked with bacon and sweetened with smoked maple syrup. Smears of sweet buttery calabaza purée on the plate looked to be streaking away from the scallops like meteor trails. Altogether too sweet.
A long, flavorfully marinated strip of assertively grilled skirt steak seemed to be missing advertised Korean barbecue sauce — perhaps it seeped in. "Quick kimchee" on the side looked like coleslaw but kicked up the spicy, tangy effect of a slow kimchee; peanut-noodle salad that shared the plate was a bland, dry, awful approximation of the Chinatown dish.
The wine list contains about 20 bottles each of red and white, almost all under $40. About a half-dozen white wines are proffered by the glass, but only four reds. A glass of big, smoky 2007 Petite Petit Lodi Syrah ($8) melded well with the pork belly and would probably pair with any dish containing bacon. So would anything selected from an alluring, small-craft, user-friendly beer list that includes brief taste characterizations. For instance, one of the imports is referred to as a "slightly dry" "American adjunct lager" with "notes of corn, mild malt, and citrus."
Admit it: That's the coolest description of Corona you've ever read. Less common brews include Affligem Tripel from Belgium (with "notes of candy and banana"), Ayinger Bräu-Weisse from Germany, and Florida's Holy Mackerel Golden Ale. (Corona goes for $5; the hipper labels run $7 to $9.)
Main courses run from $20 to $29, which is fair. Risotti and pastas are $17 to $19, which is a little less fair. Snacks and starters cost $6 to $15, but most go for a very reasonable $9 or under. A quintet of quintessential and omnipresent desserts — including molten chocolate cake, panna cotta, and bread pudding — is well priced at $6 to $8 per plate.
Pear and apple cobbler is a deep bowl of hot fruit boosted with Xante pear liqueur, baked with streusel crumbs, and topped by a scoop of "salted caramel ice cream" (vanilla with a drizzle of syrup). It's a decent enough cobbler, but are these fruits the best to use during a berry-rich South Florida summer?
A disk of milk chocolate budino (the Italian way of saying pudding) with a dense, velvety texture was delicious. Two salted toast croutons on the side are perhaps a nod to some regional tradition, but I'd have preferred a cookie.
Service was friendly but inattentive. Water glasses went unfilled, the check took too long, and during neither dinner were we offered bread — even though patrons around us had baskets on the table (on a second visit we requested some, and the sliced loaf was stiff and dry).
It was also disturbing to see Rapicavoli stay in the dining room for almost the entire duration of one dinner — a busy Friday evening no less. You would think a fairly inexperienced chef such as he would be in the kitchen, perhaps even cooking; with outdoor tables mostly unfilled, there aren't many plates to be prepared. He might also put his time to better use by improving menu items — only the gazpacho and pasta were above tweaking. That said, Rapicavoli shows glimpses of true talent. He just needs seasoning.
Food is not 660's problem, but nearly everything else is. Partly because of its afterthought-in-a-lobby ambiance, but mostly because it is not run well, 660 feels less like a restaurant than simply a room where food and drinks are served to an assemblage of people — which sounds like the same thing but is very different. Nobody greeted us upon our entrance or bade us goodnight when we exited. There was no one to come by to see that all was going well, no one to chip in if our waiter got bogged down, no one to light the candle on our table, no one to apologize to diners for the inconvenience of that cocktail party, no one to notice that linens were placed quite crookedly upon the tables. It's like a ship without a rudder, a teen without parents, a restaurant critic without a word count.
View our 660 at the Angler's slide show.
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