Georges Eric Farge charges through the loud, jam-packed room in a Gallic gallop, frantically waving his arms like a drowning man — except this frolicsome Frenchman is submerged only in adoration. He is grinning, hugging, sweating, slapping backs, and emitting a whistle with his lips that pierces the cacophony like a hot knife through foie gras. Farge's frenetic personality is familiar to anyone who, over the past 15 years, has had the pleasure of dining at Le Bouchon du Grove, where he held court as chef, owner, and dining room trouvère. He has since flitted from that bistro; his infectious Lyonnaise spirit nowadays permeates George's in the Grove.
Farge didn't fall far from the Brie; his "café-restaurant" is located on Commodore Plaza, just a few blocks from Bouchon. There are so many customers crammed wall-to-wall into this rectangular-shaped, earth-hued 60-seater that the décor might best be described as lots of people seated at tables (and at a bar stretching across one side of the space). Details not obscured by the masses include a high ceiling, open kitchen, arresting artwork, and lamps dangling at varying heights above black wood tabletops.
Farge's antics and the boisterous customers contribute to a rapidly pulsed environment in which waiters hustle through narrow spaces and perform admirably under hectic circumstances. Still, they could use a couple of extra people on the floor to help out, because rushing about can lead to blunders — such as a waiter, in the process of rapidly setting a table, temporarily placing clean silverware onto the banquette seating, where presumably someone's arse had been just moments earlier.
George's in the Grove
3145 Commodore Plz., Coconut Grove; 305-444-7878. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday 11 a.m. to midnight; brunch and dinner Saturday 9 a.m. to midnight; brunch and dinner Sunday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The kitchen cooking area isn't as roomy as it appears through an open slot facing the dining room, so it makes sense that George's keeps menu items to a manageable size: five starters, three salads, three pizzas, seven entrées, and a blackboard of about a half-dozen additional dishes du jour. That board was situated at the opposite end of the room from us, and with all the hubbub, we didn't notice it until after we had ordered; it would have helped if the waiter had brought it to our attention.
He likewise could have informed us that the yellowfin tuna steak — pan-seared rare and buttressed in buttery fashion by a sweet, creamy risotto — would be enriched further by a sumptuous lobster bisque sauce, as opposed to the menu-cited saffron sauce. No denying the fish's deliciousness, though.
A few appetizers are what one might call "Lego dishes" — comprising components even a child can snap together — such as a Caprese linking of yellow tomato–red tomato–mozzarella–basil. Or a side-by-side connection of pâté-salami-mortadella-prosciutto-Brie. A bit more finesse goes into bacalao beignets: two skewers of moist, mild, darkly fried fish fritters that tasted fine alone but became barely edible when dipped into "creole sauce" marred by an overpowering taste of raw garlic. A sparkling fresh salmon tartare — diced fish spiked with lime juice and mellowed to mellifluous effect with crème fraîche — cleansed our palates. Both seafood starters come accompanied by a small salad of greens.
Entrée salads are caesar, arugula with fresh artichokes, and a generously sized Maine lobster tail, succulently roasted and plated with an array of crisply blanched vegetables, all minimally dressed in truffle oil and crunchy nuggets of fleur de sel. Those who seek an acidic spike can mist the salad using a spray bottle of balsamic vinegar, which is set upon each table alongside a spritzer of olive oil.
A separate jar of red pepper-infused olive oil arrives with the hearth-fired pizzas, one gussied with duck confit and aged Gruyère, another with smoked ham and cheese, the third a basic Margherita with a charred, paper-thin crust and a natty smattering of cheese; excellent pie, even if it was missing the fresh basil.
George's is less bistro than Bouchon — no gratinée Lyonnaise or escargots a la bourguignonne — although prices are similar (appetizers $10.50 to $15.50, most entrées between $25 and $29). No onglet or entrecôte steak frites either, but steak au poivre brings a hefty center cut of filet mignon in brandy-bolstered demi-glace, served with gorgeously bronzed, Gruyère-laden potatoes au gratin. And you can get frites with mussels — the mollusks steamed with choice of white wine or curry cream sauce, the fries thin and cleanly fried.
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Chicken tagine hit the bistro button with gusto, via braised legs and thighs served in broth redolent of ginger, cumin, and lemon confit. A side of uneventful couscous came to life when splashed with the aromatic liquid.
Meals are preceded by warm, crusty baguettes with butter, and flutes of complimentary champagne (a lightly lubricated clientele is a fun clientele). The wine list isn't groundbreaking, nor is it wallet-breaking: The dozen whites range from $25 to $45, a wider selection of reds starts at $30 (and includes 10 bottles for $40 or less), and wines by the glass run $6 to $10. George's exhibits exemplary taste through its trio of beers: Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam, and Samuel Smith Nut Brown.
The tart of the day was raspberry cream, which pleased with a pale pâté brisée crust, vanilla custard center, and crown of berries so perfectly plump they could have been models for an ad campaign by the Raspberry Council of America. Tiramisu with crème anglaise, on the other hand, could have been a model for how not to store desserts; the otherwise airy rendition was wrapped in a thin sheath of refrigerator-flavored chocolate. There still might be a couple of kinks that need ironing out, but Mr. Farge is offering by far the most rousingly enjoyable dining experience in the Grove.