"Fine dining" once conjured images of elegant salons, white-glove service, and the type of meals you would never, and could never, cook at home. Nowadays it is a label affixed to restaurants that charge a lot of money. Bourbon Steak is a contemporary American steak house, and as such does not serve the style of cuisine traditionally associated with the uppermost echelon of establishments. Yet when à la carte entrée accompaniments include butter-poached lobster tail, grilled foie gras, and roasted marrow bones — well, let's just say this latest Michael Mina venture is, by nearly any standard, as fine as it gets around here.
Bourbon Steak is located within the hitherto inviolable confines of the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, the first of that property's restaurants open to the public. Mina, for those who don't yet know, is a celebrated chef who in 2002 was named Top Chef by the James Beard Foundation. In 2004 he opened his eponymously named establishment, considered one of San Francisco's tops. Mina has since exported his West Coast success to Las Vegas, Detroit, and Atlantic City. In December he opened this Aventura location (the third Bourbon Steak), tapping as top toque local chef Andrew Rothschild, who a few years back did a bang-up job in helming the Forge.
The décor is striking, a series of dining areas forming a tasteful taupe-toned tapestry of wood, flowers, mirrors, and thousands of wine bottles stocked and showcased behind glass. Service was executed with snap from the start; a smartly and formally attired team got diners settled with speed and aplomb. Water. Wine list. Menus. One followed the other like waves, and then a couple of inspiring splashes: an amuse-bouchée of shiitake cappuccino, the rich, clear mushroom broth heady with truffled foam and bracing as a café cubano; and a hot copper pan, fresh from the oven, fluffed with the softest potato focaccia.
Our waiter offered a concise, articulate overview of the offerings, mentioning the availability of chilled shellfish from the raw bar and explaining how 18 appetizers are divvied into a half-dozen categories (lobster, tuna, crab, greens, foie gras, and American Kobe beef), each proffered three ways. For instance, lobster floats in a grilled cheese crouton atop heirloom tomato soup, is swirled into bacon-and-shiso-wrapped fritters with yuzu crème fraîche, and gets butter-poached (in our case, to perfection) and bolstered with chanterelles and a squared crêpe oozing corn pudding. Hungry yet?
Steaks are tripartitioned as well, this threesome thing being a Mina signature. So is his means of poaching all meats in fat prior to grilling: steaks in butter, lamb in olive oil, and pork in bacon lard. The trio of choices comprises all-natural certified Angus beef, American Kobe beef from Masami Farms, and the legendary, exquisitely marbled Japanese A5 Kobe. Budgetary concerns steered me away from the last; six ounces of rib eye or filet mignon run $170 and $190, respectively. Domestic Kobe isn't too shabby a condolence, though; the same cuts cost $64 and $72. You can also try it as a tartare starter prepared tableside, a great way to taste the meat at its most pristine. A shiny glass bowl of bright red cubes of Kobe sits on ice, sided by a series of short, snortable-looking lines of classic accouterments laid out on stone: capers, cornichons, red onion, egg yolks, sea salt, and coarse black pepper. The waiter deftly swept the lines together and tossed the mix in with the beef — plus the delicate little yolk of a quail egg. Accompanied with warm, grilled slices of pita bread, this is as terrific a tartare as you will ever have.
A dry-aged, bone-in, 18-ounce Angus rib eye, boasting assertive seasoning and potent oak notes from the grill, held its own against the Kobe. A quartet of simply grilled seafood selections is offered too, but we went with a couple of "Michael's Classics": miso-glazed cod and lobster potpie. Though the first was not created by Mina, Rothschild and his kitchen crew turn out an ethereally luscious version, with succulently flaked fish soaked in shiitake consommé and texturally contrasted with crunchy baby bok choy and scallop dumplings bobbing alongside. Crisp micro-sprouts garnish the top.
Potpie was over-the-top — or so it seemed when wheeled out on a trolley, looking like only a slightly scaled-down architectural model of a domed sports arena. Yet once the pastry cap was sliced off and the whole Maine lobster removed from the pot and plated with a bouquetière of vegetables and intoxicating brandy-and-cream lobster sauce, what was left looked — and tasted! — like a dish you might be served at some Michelin-starred eatery in the French countryside: classic and pure. Market price, I should note, on this occasion was $90.
Lobster, foie gras, Kobe beef. Oysters, caviar, truffles. Bourbon's menu is steeped in luxe comestibles, but nothing gets the crowd buzzing like duck-fat fries. The skinny, twice-fried spuds come three ways: truffled, spiced with smoked paprika, and doused in herbs, each with a matching dip. The fries are enhanced from the lip-smacking dunk in duck fat, but don't expect bird flavor; it's a subtle thing. Other innovative sides were just as good, our favorite being a spinach soufflé with creamy Parmesan sauce poured down the center.
Desserts keep the good times rolling till the end. Two beignets, so greaseless as if fried in hot air, come with a choice of (guess how many — right: three) custardy accompaniments. We picked chocolate pot d'crême, which to no surprise was flawless. So was homemade malted milk ice cream. Haute? No, siree. But Bourbon Steak is fine dining, all right, and one of our finest restaurants. Three cheers!
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