The small, cluttered, always crowded L'Entrecote de Paris debuted on Washington Avenue, just south of Fifth Street, in 1993. The restaurant seemed old from the start, in a good way, as though it had been there forever. That was part of its appeal. Much of the clientele was made up of Europeans, probably because the place reminded them of the sort of affordably priced cafés with basic, flavorful food that they had back home. At L'Entrecote the fare couldn't be more elemental: a choice between grilled Argentine steak with a tangy and peppery emulsion-based sauce and all the crisp, skinny French fries you could eat, or grilled salmon with a creamy shallot-dill sauce and boiled potatoes. Both courses came with a salad of mixed lettuce, tomatoes, and walnuts coated in a sharp and sassy Dijon vinaigrette, with slices of fresh French bread on the side. A real deal at $14 and $17 respectively. (I remember writing at the time that had my mother dined here she would have commented, "Would it kill them to put chicken on the menu?" A short time later chicken was added.)
The new L'Entrecote: bigger, bolder, and uncluttered. It's located next door to where the old one stood, which is to say nestled at the base of CMG's China Grill-Red Square-Tuscan Steak Triangle. You'd think this would be a Bermuda Triangle for competing restaurants, but rather than disappear, L'Entrecote has doubled its indoor seating capacity from 30 to 61. The look is different, too, though they've successfully retained a charming ambiance. An oak bar with eight stools runs along the right-hand side of the room, with tables in front, in back, and outdoors under bright, red-canvas umbrellas. The rear of the restaurant provides the quieter, quainter atmosphere in which to dine, wood-framed mirrors on one wall reflecting a mesmerizing mural on the other -- a whimsically composed Parisian street scene with a cork-bursting bottle of Perrier Jouët equal in size to the Eiffel Tower. That captures the spirit of this effervescent restaurant, as does, somehow, the mostly Brazilian music being pumped through the speakers up front. During weekend evenings in particular, L'Entrecote bubbles with the energy exuded by those who are gearing up for a long night out. Having a full bar helps elevate the festivities, too, though most diners seem comfortable sipping wine; the list currently is being expanded to include more high-end selections. Makes sense, as the handsome new room is bound to draw some of the block's dapper dining clientele.
L'Entrecote de Paris
419 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-1002.
Open for dinner seven days, Sunday through Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Of course the locals still come for the steak and salmon, which are the same, and as satisfying, as ever (a small menu like this makes quality control that much easier). Even more astonishing, the prices have remained unchanged as well, though along with a grilled chicken breast ($14) accompanied by a too-cheesy-for-my-taste gratin dauphinoise, there are two new, slightly pricier additions to the menu: grilled filet mignon ($21) and grilled grouper ($18), the latter served to us as a translucently flaky fillet with an orange marmaladelike glaze.
Mussels steamed with white wine, shallots, parsley, and cream are available both as the sole non-salad starter and as an entrée ($6/$16). They're the New Zealand variety which, because they're pretty, plump, and come thoroughly cleaned and packaged in their dark green half-shells, have recently taken over as the mollusks of choice in many Miami restaurants. There may be other South Beach spots where you can sample these sanitized shellfish, but there are none that offer good service and a splendid environment in which to dine on fresh bread, salad, steak, and all the frites you can eats for $14. And that's the raison d'etre for both the old and the new L'Entrecote de Paris.