It was nearly 6 p.m. on a brisk Saturday, and only three tables at Key Biscayne's Exit 1 were occupied. A mural of a lighthouse scene filled a white stone wall, which was framed by dark molding and vintage photographs of old Key scenes. Smooth jazz played in the background. Four waiters clad in black uniforms hovered around the kitchen door. They were engaged in a dull debate -- something about the froth atop the osso buco stroganoff. Was it garlic scape or just plain garlic? Not one of them really seemed to know for sure.
Two couples on a double date sat at a nearby table in the 200-seat dining room. Their hair was white, their attire was Façonnable, and their conversation rolled from Mitt Romney to crisp Chardonnay. The ambiance was all country club, white pearl necklaces, and baby-blue cardigans.
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If you don't live on the Key, you should know this: To reach Exit 1, which opened in July, you must pay the $1.50 toll on the Rickenbacker Causeway, pass Crandon Park, traverse the Village of Key Biscayne, and turn left before Bill Baggs State Park. There, at the Towers of Key Biscayne, near the condominium's lobby, you'll find the restaurant entrance.
But at this seaside refuge, there is no water view, no wafting ocean air, and no outdoor seating. (Well, there is a patio, but it was closed on both visits. Only the main dining room and bar are in use.) From where we sat, the view was actually quite bleak: The tall glass windows were dusty, the floor was littered with crumbs, and the square white bread plates were smudged with grease marks. On one visit, I even found a defunct gray worm curled up by my chair. I became preoccupied with what I wasn't seeing: the kitchen, the walk-in, the prep area. What did those look like?