Smoked salmon spring rolls aren't the obvious choice at Biscayne Tavern, a downtown restaurant that peddles more fried potatoes than lox. So when your waiter says he prefers the dish over the "crispy Gulf shrimp dynamite," you order the rolls halfheartedly and glare at the shrimp platters passing by.
But then the appetizer arrives at the table. Its cream cheese interior still shimmers from the fryer's heat. You take a bite. Bursting with rich flavors, the brittle crust scorches your lips. The spring rolls taste like the best deep-fried bagel you've ever had.
Which sounds exactly like something you should enjoy with a drink. At Biscayne Tavern, a step-by-step brewing guide adorns the wall. A freestanding bar pours suds from bottles and more than 15 craft beers from taps. Located on high-rise-clogged Biscayne Boulevard, the restaurant features high-definition TV screens, a menu scattered with ribs and fries, and specialty cocktails spiked with spices and herbs.
In short, Biscayne Tavern pairs best with Sunday-night football and a couple of old friends.
Selling burgers and beers usually ensures a favorable outcome, and indeed, the man behind Biscayne Tavern is a successful restaurateur. The self-proclaimed "gastro-tavern" belongs to Jeffrey Chodorow, the financier behind China Grill and Asia de Cuba.
Along with his restaurant empire, Chodorow has also racked up plenty of controversy. In 2003, he backed chef Rocco DiSpirito's Manhattan restaurant, Rocco's on 22nd Street. The venture was documented on The Restaurant, a reality series that aired on NBC. But arguments between DiSpirito and Chodorow plagued the show. Eventually, the drama spilled from the small screen into the courtroom. A judge barred DiSpirito from the kitchen, and after a flurry of lawsuits, Chodorow closed the venture.
Last year, the restaurateur shuttered South Beach's China Grill and announced plans to reopen it in Brickell in late 2013. A few months ago, he closed Asia de Cuba at South Beach's Mondrian Hotel. Shortly thereafter, Chodorow's group declared intentions of reopening in a new space.
Amid all of those changes, Chodorow launched Biscayne Tavern in March at the B2 hotel and hired Will Biscoe, formerly chef de cuisine at the posh Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, to helm the pub's kitchen.
Biscoe's background suggests he can execute delicate and hefty dishes with equal finesse. On a recent Saturday night, his sesame-crusted tuna proved otherwise. The underseasoned fish rested atop a sloppy pineapple slaw, which tasted rancid. When the manager noticed our untouched dish, however, she sent us a round of complimentary drinks. Biscayne Tavern may keep it casual, but its service is surprisingly generous.
Salads also occasionally prove cumbersome for the kitchen. The seafood cobb -- a mash of shrimp, crab, blue cheese, and mango -- costs $21. Despite the eye-popping price tag, the grilled shrimp lacked freshness and the salad was devoid of its balsamic vinaigrette. Much more successful is the iceberg wedge salad, which combines huge chunks of crisp lettuce and beefy tomatoes beneath a thick stout dressing.
You can add bacon to your wedge salad -- and to the restaurant's delectable burger too. Biscoe cooks his Florida grass-fed beef patties to a perfect medium-rare and places the meat on a potato roll. There's a choice of sides: sweet-potato fries, regular fries, or salad. Opt for the sweet-potato variety -- these frites are far more delicious than any salad we tried.
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The bill of fare combines classics such as burgers with trendier treats like sliders. For his pork-belly rendition, Biscoe squishes miso mayonnaise onto a soft bun. He layers the sauce with grilled slabs of pork belly and spicy napa cabbage slaw. The miniburgers achieve a clever balance between fat and heat. The restaurant's meatloaf also succeeds for its footing. Glazed with balsamic vinegar and tomato, the meatloaf is smothered in a robust portobello mushroom gravy. Blue cheese, a recurring ingredient at the tavern, adds a pleasant funk to the dish's smashed potatoes.
While other restaurants in Miami toy with deconstructed key lime pie, signature desserts here include cheesecake, chocolate cake, and milk and cookies. Biscoe's "famous chocolate chip cookies" match a teeny red milk carton with sea-salt-flaked cookies. Your waiter delivers the dessert with an extra glass. It's for dunking cookies into the milk. And, like everything else at Biscayne Tavern, even the cookies pair wonderfully with a cold drink.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.