At Azul, guests arrive to the sound of water trickling rain-like alongside a marble-and-tile-clad open kitchen. This peaceful, feng shui welcome has been in place since the restaurant premiered at Miami's Mandarin Oriental Hotel in December 2000, and so has the interior: a softly lit dining area with linen-draped tables facing floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap the room with a condo-lined vista of Biscayne Bay. Ambiance too remains the same: on the dull and stuffy side.
The food, though, has changed quite a bit since new chef de cuisine Joel Huff's arrival last February. Azul has seen few toque turnovers during its tenure: Michelle Bernstein and Clay Conley are the only predecessors. Those are two big pairs of shoes to fill. Unfortunately, Huff's dishes are ambitious but ultimately too inconsistent to match up.
Huff has two decades of kitchen experience stretching from his native California to Southeast Asia to Australia. His more notable stints, however, may well have been at the Mandarin Oriental in New York under chef Nori Sugie and as chef de cuisine of Saam at the Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills.
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The food from Huff, sous chef Brad Kilgore, and assistant chef de cuisine Jacob Ananay is described as "modern European with American and Asian influences." But Sugie's and Andrés's roots reverberate so loudly through the menu that it should be called "modern Spanish/Mediterranean with Asian influences."
Read the review of Azul at the Mandarin Oriental here.
View photos from Azul at the Mandarin Oriental here.