Until a recent $7 million makeover, the Rusty Pelican was becoming a musty Pelican. All of that work has freshened up the joint, but there was something cozy and unpretentious about the old driftwood-inspired seafood-house décor. The new look features an entrance through a sleek glassed-in wine corridor, but the dining room is less 21st Century. There's an eclectic decorative mix of 220 padded chairs and booths, rectangular red lampshades, blue carpeting, a forest's worth of wood tables and paneling, and a flea market's worth of light fixtures and wall hangings. The theme binding those elements might be described as "early-'60s hotel lobby."
No matter. The waterfront view from every seat steals the show anyway, whether through clear bay windows or from outdoor tables illuminated by fire pits. The vista offers such a twinkling wink from the alluring Miami skyline that any tackiness is rendered moot. Alas, even the lights of the Las Vegas Strip couldn't distract from the disappointing cuisine.
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The Pelican's executive chef is Michael Gilligan, a familiar face from his time heading the kitchen of Atrio at Conrad Miami and more recently Soleá at the W South Beach. His menu here is contemporary American (implying a global influence) and, surprisingly, not very seafood-centric. There are enough shellfish offerings among the starters and entrées, but the main-course fish choices are limited to local sea bass, local red snapper, and Columbia River salmon (which is rolled with foie gras). If you want a straightforward grilled fish, it's down to the salmon or sea bass.