If you've ever danced on a table at Mezzanotte, the Italian restaurant hailed for breathing new life into South Beach back in the late Eighties, consider it a treasured memory: The twelve-year-old Mezzanotte finally has closed up shop. But chair-jiggers shouldn't despair. The new owner of the location is Tim Hogle, who runs Tantra, the restaurant that made boogying in the aisles and on top of furniture trendy once again. Tantra's executive chef Willis Loughhead says we shouldn't expect a menu identical to Tantra's, however. He's going to be cooking fresh Italian-style seafood, “staying away from cream and butter, doing flash-marinated seafood and coastal fish dishes, and lots of ceviche,” he notes. He'll even be kneading his own breads and pastas. At the moment he's looking for local specialty growers -- gardeners who dedicate themselves to perfecting one type of product -- to supply the eatery, which will be called AcQua and is slated for a December opening.
•Say ciao to Chow and hail the resurrection: The troubled pan-Asian eatery Chow closed its doors this summer. Already opened in its place? Divina, the restaurant that had preceded Chow. A haute-Mexican eatery that served dishes that seemed straight out of the magical-realism novel Like Water for Chocolate, Divina first opened in 1998. It was run by Alejandro Garcia and his wife, chef Lorena Vega-Beuggie, and enjoyed a lauded run for seven months. But the couple was forced out by landlord problems and decided to operate Au Bar, a club on South Beach instead. Less than pleased with club-kid clientele, however, they jumped at the chance to reincarnate Divina in its original location.
•Hang on to your appetites: Executive chef-proprietor Michelle Bernstein is leaving The Strand stranded. She'll become chef de cuisine under the direction of executive chef Christian Schmidt at Azul, one of two restaurants at the Mandarin Oriental Miami, which is under construction on Brickell Key. The Mandarin Oriental, which public relations rep Larry Carrino describes as “decadent and also very elegant,” will house a second eatery called Café Sambal. In addition to the regular menus, both restaurants will offer spa menus and “a substantial amount of outdoor dining,” Carrino notes. Look for the formerly food-barren Brickell Key to join the culinary big-time in November.
•The truly disappointing news from North Miami Beach is that the noteworthy Gourmet Diner is for sale. Belgian-born chef-proprietor Jean-Pierre Lejeune, age 64, cites health problems as the main reason. He plans to retire, spending his time relaxing in his house in Islamorada and visiting family in Belgium. After he's served us so diligently over the past seventeen years we wish him the best -- but only if he leaves behind the recipe to the custard-fruit tart.
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