At Lippi, you should really eat your vegetables. The handsome Brickell restaurant, perched amid shimmering Christmas trees, offers a Mediterranean-inspired menu that features $75 Dover sole and $30-per-ounce Kobe beef. But perhaps more interesting, it also proffers roasted baby carrots and turnips flecked with coarse sea salt that share a bowl with tomatoes, basil, and green beans. It sounds simple, adorned with microgreens and priced at $12. Not only are the flavors are complex, but they are also teeming with bold textures and hues.
Even the most gluttonous of appetites can enjoy the vegetables here. The fritto is a bulky stack of deep-fried zucchini, eggplant, and enoki mushrooms, crisp on the outside, tender and meaty on the inside. Sure, the dish looks like fried calamari's nerdy cousin. But you can dunk these plants in a delicate, aromatic curry aioli. "I don't eat vegetables," our server said on a recent Friday night. "But when I do, I eat these."
It's no surprise that Philippe Ruiz's cooking converts carnivores. The seasoned chef who's earned two James Beard Award nominations once ran the kitchen at Palme d'Or -- the French fine-dining restaurant at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Two years ago, he left the post, and now he's cooking at Lippi, a place founded by Tunu Puri -- one of the partners behind the wildly successful Zuma, the Japanese restaurant with outposts in Miami, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, and Dubai.
This newest venture is a study in luxury. Located on the first floor of Brickell World Plaza, Lippi occupies an airy, shiny space that includes high ceilings, marble floors, and pretty chandeliers. While nearby restaurants such as Box Park and Gordon Biersch have recently shuttered, on most nights, there's a lengthy wait for one of Lippi's 214 seats.
The restaurant is packed with a classy crowd, the kind that favors foie gras and canelés over pork belly and cupcakes. At dinner, you'll see the corporate guy, the one who romances his date with oysters and cocktails by the bar. Then there's the poised woman, her shoulders covered in a silk shawl, sitting on the patio and asking the server to lower the curtain. "It's chilly out," she says. Past this lovely terrace, Brickell's high-rises loom over busy swaths of concrete.
The food here isn't meant to be fashionable. Ruiz offers textbook gougères stuffed with oozing béchamel as an amuse-bouche. His cured hamachi, sliced thinly and served over a block of salt, gets a kick from trout roe, ají amarillo sauce, and espelette peppers. Grilled, perfectly cooked duck breast is arranged neatly alongside cranberry marmalade and roasted baby apples. Scented with nutmeg, his polenta is arguably among the best in this city. At Lippi, Ruiz proves his prowess extends beyond the cookery of France.
Try his octopus carpaccio, a stunning starter sprinkled with fennel pollen, paprika, olives, and chives. The tentacles are steamed, chilled, and then brushed with lemon oil vinaigrette. While other chefs in Miami obsess over grilling this meaty flesh, Ruiz's treatment gives it enough room to breathe.
Not everything is treated with such a light hand. Deep-fried lamb skewers are crammed with jalapeño, garam masala, cilantro, and fennel seeds. The flavors are overwhelming. But if you don't finish your dish, a sharply dressed manager will stop by your table. He'll make sure the leftovers on your plate indicate you're full, not displeased.
The manager won't stop by if you ordered Ruiz's wild mushroom risotto. The rice is presented in a tiny cast-iron pot set over a tea light, like cheese fondue. It's a decadent side, laced with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil, and cream that's rich and warming.
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Lippi's desserts are executed with precision. Artfully arranged in an open glass orb, the pineapple cannoli resembles a miniature terrarium. The pastry kitchen slow-cooks tapioca with vanilla and layers it with passionfruit, cilantro granita, and a pineapple-stuffed cannoli shell. Indulge! You've already eaten healthfully during the first course.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.