Nest of Quinn
The Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive used to have a cool Deco lobby replete with pool table. Now, as a dining room for Quinn's, it is filled with linen-covered tables that extend onto a comfortable outdoor patio and up the crowded street. Alfresco dining on this pedestrian thoroughfare always prompts the same reaction from visitor guides: "Great people-watching." Can't argue with that.
Chef/owner Gerry Quinn is no doubt used to his cuisine having to compete with compelling images of frolicking passersby, his prior engagement being just up the Drive at A Fish Called Avalon, where he ran the kitchen with a sure hand for nearly a decade. Quinn has retained his Avalon style, meaning Floribbean/fusion cooking with an emphasis on seafoods. He's also brought along specific signature dishes like "bang bang shrimp," which is now called "bam bam shrimp." It's one of the best starters here, the medium-size crustaceans marinated in "fourteen spices" that together exude an aromatic, Caribbean-inspired nutmeg-cinnamon-cumin flavor sweetened with palm sugar. A vinegared mound of cucumber threads, and pool of minted cucumber yogurt, would have served as cool counterpoints to the shrimp's piquancy, but tasty as the fourteen spices were, none provided much bang or bam.
The same fourteen seasonings had a similarly pleasant if punchless effect as the seasoning for a main course of red snapper, also a Quinn signature. The moist fillets came paired with impeccably grilled plantains; a chayote, black bean, and corn "salsa" that steamed beneath the hot fish until it became pretty much plain chayote, black beans, and corn; and a velvety sweet orange sauce.
The menu's mélange of nut crusts and tropical fruits offers nothing we haven't seen before, which would be fine if the preparation and ingredients impressed; sadly, they did not. Take an appetizer of two savorily seasoned crab-lobster cakes overly darkened from too long a dip in oil, the limp breading topped with pistachio crumbs and soggied by a puddle of cold, tinny-tasting key lime and "weri weri" pepper vinaigrette that overpowered the cakes in a weri weri unpleasant way.
Or take the bread (away. Quickly.). On one visit the slices of sourdough were fresh, butter balls recently scooped. Another time the butter boasted mostly refrigerator flavor, and obviously nonfresh slices of bread came lightly toasted in a meager attempt at camouflage. The crusty bread wasn't worthless, however, as we used it as croutons for a lobster bisque likewise plagued by poor execution -- the base too thin and heavily brandied, the "chive crème fraîche" broken into a butter slick atop the soup.
A main course of pistachio-crusted black grouper brought moistly cooked fillets accompanied by a wedge of passable potato gratin and two parsimonious asparagus spears (evidently three was deemed too much for diners to handle). What should have been a lemon-caper-white wine sauce was instead a creamy pink tomato sauce that provided bland fuel for a flight to the Land of Dishes Forgotten as Soon As You Eat Them.
A trio of "herb crusted" double lamb chops were generously enough portioned to warrant the $28 tab (making this the least expensive meat on an overpriced menu), but the herbless chops were charred with grease-fire taste, and only the thickest of the three managed to hold onto any degree of medium-rare (as ordered) juiciness. "Roasted garlic" mashed potatoes were lumpy, creamless, without garlic or finesse; snow peas and carrot strips proved to be snappy if uninspired. A plantain chip protruded horizontally from the plate -- I guess that's what you call one of them fancy accouterments found in your highfalutin establishments.
Service is standard Ocean Drive -- a perky hostess to seat you, a friendly, occasionally competent staff to serve you. Quick to pour bottled water and wine, considerably slower in clearing plates and bringing the check, the waiters were clumsy at reciting specials, and even less adept at suggesting wines from an impressively extensive and global list.
Desserts are as unseasonal and unimaginative as the rest of the menu: strawberry cheesecake, chocolate "lava" cake, chocolate-vanilla-coffee-striped mousse, chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and a trio of sorbets. We sampled a glass of the latter, a scoop each of coconut, passion fruit, and raspberry, which provided the cleanest, most refreshing tastes of the evening. We had also ordered strawberry cheesecake, but the waiter returned to our table after a few minutes to inform us that they were out. After taking our substitute selection, he left and came back again with good news: "We found the cheesecake." I was tempted to ask where it had been hiding, but resisted the urge; I likewise kept to myself the notion they send out another search team to find the missing strawberries, of which there were none. Instead I just dug into the hugely portioned slab of New York-style cheesecake -- not as creamy as the best, but a worthwhile rendition. That's more than you can say for most of Quinn's cuisine.
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