It Really Is Good

Wouldn't it be nice if every restaurant were named as truthfully as Le Bon (an Italian dialect for "it's good")?

Then we'd be seeing restaurant names like these:

"It's Okay: We suck only a little bit."


Le Bon

723 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach

305-673-3266. Open for lunch Monday through Thursday noon to 4:00 p.m., dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to midnight; Friday through Sunday noon to 1:00 a.m.

"It's Mediocre: We suck a lot but the tourists don't know the difference."

"It's Vile: Our food and service are enormous black holes of stupefyingly awful suckiness."

We're lucky that Graziano Sbroggio knows something about good restaurants. He owns two on Lincoln Road alone -- Tiramesu and Spris. Sandwiched between them is Le Bon, a delightfully different restaurant that just might be a sign of the creeping maturation of our local dining scene.

It could have been yet another mail-it-in Italian place, dishing up carpaccio-fried-calamari-lobster-ravioli-veal-saltimbocca with all the excitement of a dead man's fingernails growing. Instead Sbroggio gave Le Bon a vastly more interesting identity: a Belgian-style seafood café specializing in that nation's two gastronomic passions, mussels and beer.

While you order the latter and ponder the former, start with something light, like five emerald asparagus spears draped with slices of prosciutto in a pool of lemony hollandaise. Simple but delicious. There's a creditable New England clam chowder -- creamy, just barely thickened, with tender chunks of potato and clam and a prodigious hit of garlic.

Never mind the mussel croquettes, two hockey puck-size discs whose golden, crusty exteriors mask the congealed fish-flavored batter hiding within. The promised dipping sauces turn out to be generic tartar sauce, adding only caloric insult to cholesterolic injury.

Mussels every other way, though, are terrific. They're priced by the kilo or half-kilo and come in clever little stainless steel pots whose overturned lids become empty shell receptacles. And there will be plenty of empty shells, because Le Bon's mussels are impeccably fresh, perfectly cooked, and bathed in broths that demand sopping up with slices of crusty bread.

Unveiling "Bivalves Provençal" releases a cloud of aromatic steam, a lusty, invigorating blend of tomatoes, garlic, and fresh thyme that takes to mussels the way mussels take to water. Prepared Asian-style, the flavors are more complex, the sweet-briny nuggets awash in a suave, coconut milk-laced broth with green curry, coriander, lime juice, and chilies.

All pots of mussels come with dipping sauces and a side of pommes frites, which disappoint in their inconsistent execution (limp and soggy one night, marginally crisp another) and lack of imagination (ketchup and anemic aioli).

Mussels gratinée are so wickedly rich they're best split between two (you and a friend, you and your tapeworm). Prepared à la Popeye and John D. Rockefeller, each juicy seafood pillow is topped with cream sauce, spinach, molten Gruyre, and bacon. You can feel your arteries harden with every bite. But you don't care.

If you can't muscle up the nerve for that, there's steak, rack of lamb, stuffed snapper, and quite enjoyable beer-braised chicken that tastes of the riotous spices regularly infused in Belgian brews (coriander, ginger, orange peel, peppers).

Le Bon is the place to talk about beer, which is as integral to the restaurant as its mussels. Offered are more than twenty brews, each served in a glass designed by the brewery to best present its product.

Matching beer to food is half the fun of eating here -- whether you're pairing light, hoppy Stella Artois with hollandaise-dipped asparagus, cutting the richness of Popeye's mussels with the champagne-like bubbles of Duvel Strong Golden Ale, or enhancing the exotic flavors of Asian mussels with spicy, malty Chimay Red Amber Ale.

For dessert, pass on the usual suspects (tiramisu, cheesecake, crème brûlée) and head for the Belgian chocolate "cake," which is basically a hunk of superior Belgian chocolate melted down to a wedge and garnished with fresh raspberries. This treat -- like much of Graziano Sbroggio's restaurant -- will leave you saying, "Le bon."


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