The Miami Design District is a nice neighborhood for strolling. The various antique and design shops contain interesting merchandise to peruse and you don't have to worry about getting pushed around by a crowd. There never is one. At least not the times I've found myself walking here, in what is Miami's perennially up-and-coming community. The area has come up commercially and culturally (and I'm sure rents have risen commensurately), but during the day it still attracts only a piddling pedestrian flow. The people, I have deduced, are indoors working, or indoors purchasing, or indoors eating. I base the last assumption on the strong signs of life inside the Merlin building, where a new lunch spot called Meeting Point opened up just over two months ago.
There is no signage outside for the restaurant, but once you enter the atrium lobby and see the giant shoe sculpture you'll know you've arrived. If you're familiar with local restaurant lore you'll recognize the shoe from its former location in front of Big Fish Mayaimi, the old seafood restaurant on the Miami River that has since changed hands. The former proprietor of Big Fish, Montse Guillen, now co-owner of Meeting Point, hails from Barcelona, and the chalkboard menu at this convivial sandwich and salad bar speaks with a decidedly Spanish accent. The selection of dishes, which changes daily, is small in scope but features more than just sandwiches and salads -- other options include soup of the day, quiches, frittatas, croquetas, Spanish omelets, a vegetable soufflé, and a couple of hot lunches: on one occasion grilled squid or salmon with zucchini and basmati rice.
The atrium, like most atriums, is large, bright, and airy, which makes for a most inviting space to dine. I'm not enthralled with the aesthetics of the big, black, sequined high-heeled shoe in the middle of the room, but I don't deny it injects a healthy dose of whimsy into the space. Plus when you want to rendezvous here for lunch, you can just tell the person to meet you by the shoe -- wait a minute, I think I just figured out how they named this place.
3930 NE 2nd Ave, Miami
305-576-8109. Open Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
So I guess the shoe fits. As do brightly colored tables and chairs, appropriately contemporary in design, that surround the footwear in the circular dining room. An art gallery, antique store, and furniture showroom face inward around the perimeter, as does the actual restaurant, a tiny, closet-like area in which to read the menu, look at the salads and desserts in their display case, check out the sandwiches piled on top, and place your order if taking food out. Otherwise just grab a seat in the atrium and wait for a waiter -- you may wait awhile as some organizational kinks still need to be ironed out, but while service during our visits was slow it was not excruciatingly so. Besides it's such a pleasant place to sit.
The crew at Meeting Point, under the tutelage of co-owner/pastry chef Pedro Coma, do their own baking, and the freshness of quality comes through with every bite. It's amazing how much better a sandwich with great bread tastes than one without. Enticing selection, too: a triple-decker focaccia sandwich (green peppers are roasted into the top of the bread) with turkey, lettuce, and tomato on one level and a savory vegetable omelet on another (smoked turkey would have worked even better); lomo (a Serrano-like ham) with manchego cheese on a bun with tomato slice baked into the top; a bocata (which from the looks of it apparently translates to "Herculean-sized hero sandwich cut into many portions") stuffed with tuna, salmon, mozzarella, and fixin's; and brioche with turkey and manchego. Sandwiches are fairly priced at $3.75 to $6 -- they're large in flavor if not size.
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Egg-based dishes include a quiche Lorraine along with vegetarian options such as a potato, onion, and spinach frittata and a crookedly cylindrical vegetable soufflé shaped like The Cat in the Hat's hat. All are accompanied by a clump of mesclun greens dressed in balsamic vinaigrette and run $3 to $3.50. A bowl of tomato soup (du jour) dotted with freshly sliced scallions and sided by a long Parmesan crisp is $3.75. Chicken croquetas the size of meatballs go for sixty cents apiece. The modesty of price and portion encourages a sampling of two or three items; with a bit of creativity you can craft a varied and immensely satisfying lunch. No wine or beer is served, but a glass of fresh carrot-orange juice should more than hit the spot.
So would one of the refreshing salads, which like the rest of the foods are simply and attractively presented on rectangular glass plates. Choices on our visit were tofu and tomato; feta cheese and tomato; endive and smoked salmon; shrimp, pears, and Parmesan; salmon carpaccio; shrimp salad; tuna salad; and chicken salad, the white meat mixed with flecks of pineapple, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and shredded white cheese -- sounds strange, but the combo clicked.
Desserts are made in-house yet appear to have been prepared by a slickly artistic professional -- individual mango mousse cakes and chocolate mousse cakes were the sort that could easily be confused with an ornately accessorized pillbox hat for Barbie. I bypassed a pyramid-shaped pineapple layer cake on the grounds that I'd had enough pineapple with my chicken, and an alluring square of tiramisu because I've been feeling over-tiramisued. I'm not sure why I didn't order the bread pudding -- perhaps I was simply in a Napoleonic frame of mind as I chose a pair of variations on Napoleon: coca de crystal, which featured rectangular sheets of fresh, buttery puff pastry topped with almonds and powdered sugar and filled with whipped cream and vanilla pastry cream; and crema de leche, pretty much the same but capped with dulce de leche. Both were luscious with a cup of cappuccino.
The big shoe: That's where you meet. Fresh, flavorful lunches prepared with care: That's the point.