When it comes to seafood, freshness is key to a restaurant's success, according to Pano I. Karatassos, executive chef of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, the company behind Miami Beach’s newest seafood house, Lobster Bar Sea Grille (404 Washington Ave., Miami Beach).
The Miami Beach outpost is the second location of this oceanic oasis, joining the restaurant group's lineup in locations like Atlanta, Boca Raton, and Fort Lauderdale. The restaurant’s mantra is simple: 48 hours from dock to plate.
With a Savannah upbringing and a spirited Greek heritage, chef Karatassos’ thirst for the water and seafood was born from a family tradition.
"We are a family that is passionate about seafood, and that started with my father,” says the chef about his father, the founder of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. “He’s been in the business since he graduated from culinary school back in 1960.”
The seafood-worshipping pedigree is alive and well in the new Lobster Bar Sea Grille in Miami Beach, where each day’s fresh catch is so elegantly displayed in a massive white-marble display case. The restaurant’s fish, shellfish, caviar, and more hail from fisheries around the world, in different parts of Europe, New Zealand, Japan, and the U.S.
“We pay special attention to seafood that works with the specific ways that we do things and in ways that we’ve been successful,” Karatassos says.
What is most distinguished about the process is that chef Karatassos and his team have eliminated the middle men. Buckhead Life deals directly with the fisheries since they started their own import company, Boutique Seafood. “We are the direct importer for all this fish," David Abes, Buckhead Life Group COO, says.
“That goes back to my dad," Karatassos adds. "He had about four restaurants at the time, and he was tired of dealing with the low quality he was receiving from local purveyors. He said, ‘You know what? I can do this myself,’ and he did.”
Karatassos' father, the similarly named I. Pano Karatassos, hired a team for the business, set up several facilities and began flying in whatever fish he fancied.
“Because we don’t have any middle men, we buy direct,” Karatassos says. “From time to time our guys in Greece will be so excited about new fish, they’ll text or Facetime us to see if we want it.”
Sure enough, just over a day later, they’ll see at their doorstep the same fish they inspected via video chat the day before. And, from the moment they arrive from their journey across the Atlantic, the fish are “handled like babies,” as Karatassos so lovingly put it.
“We don’t hold them by the face, and we don’t hold them by the tails,” he explained. “We lay them in their natural swimming position so each side will cook equally.”
According to Karatassos, the amount of care that goes into the fish directly contributes to the quality of its taste. When the weight is equally distributed, both sides will cook with equal tension, as opposed to fish that had been laid flat.
With such a high regard for the fish from sea to service, it was only natural that the restaurant handpicked one of South Beach’s veteran chefs for its newest venture. Heading up the Lobster Bar Sea Grille Miami Beach culinary team is executive chef Arturo Paz, who most recently served as the executive chef at Cleo at the Redbury South Beach. With a background in Mediterranean cuisine, and more than 25 years in Miami Beach, Paz had a home-court advantage when signing on to the opening of Lobster Bar Sea Grille.
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“Having been in South Beach since the early '90s, I can say that this restaurant is definitely bringing something that the locals will consider a neighborhood favorite,” Paz says. “It’s not meant to be just your typical tourist-driven concept. This is more of a neighborhood style restaurant.”
And when you’re serving loyal locals, expectations are raised and anticipation is high. The menu aims to please with a variety of inventive appetizers like burrata and caviar salata ($26), char-grilled Mediterranean octopus ($18), and lobster morsels ($32) with a Greek honey-mustard aioli. Then, move on to a slew of fresh crudos and caviar. The true parade, however, comes with the mains, including a live lobster experience, whole fish options, prime steak, and even a monstrous shellfish tower.
Although seafood is its first calling, the restaurant also has a variety of prime steaks for visiting carnivores. Lobster Bar Sea Grille is currently open for dinner and will begin lunch service starting in May.
Lobster Bar Sea Grille
404 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-377-2675; buckheadrestaurants.com.