The Bath Club first appeared on Miami Beach's Millionaires Row near 59th Street in 1926. For decades, it was a private, membership-only bastion of barons, bankers, beneficiaries, and assorted other brandy-snifting bandits and bores.
Then came a restaurant concept from Nantucket,
which caused the club hierarchy to say, "Fuck it."
The Cape Cod Room
At the Bath Club, 5937 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-864-1262. Dinner Wednesday through Saturday 6 to 10 p.m. and Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Fish was imported.
The public got courted.
Now they again have the dough to nip and tuck it.
That's right. In early November, the much-storied Bath Club opened its new restaurant, the Cape Cod Room, to the hoi polloi. The Mediterranean revival foyer that diners must traverse to reach the eatery is more visually compelling than the 75-seat dining area. On the one hand, we're glad they didn't go for glitz; it's almost quaint that a room representing as prominent a restaurateur as Ken Lyon is so understated. This is ironic considering that Lyon's prior ventures, Lyon Frères and Fratelli Lyon, are especially notable for modern design. The Cape Cod Room has stylish elements: upholstered sea-blue chairs upon a sleek terrazzo floor, black and white photographs of sailboats set neatly on sand-colored walls, and arched windows opening to a swimming pool. But add drab drapes to cover those windows, an incongruously designed bar that looks like it was swiped from a tiki room, and malodorously scented candles to counter an ambiguous mustiness, and you're left with all the pizzazz of a New Bedford Holiday Inn restaurant circa 1960.
"Creeping along the endless beach amid the sun-squall and the foam, it occurs to us that we, too, are the product of sea-slime." So ends Henry David Thoreau's lengthy passage about Cape Cod, which takes up the menu's front page. Upon tasting the Portuguese-style onion loaves and crisp, cayenne-spiked corn sticks that were promptly brought to our table, we were giddy as kids at that shore. The array of classic New England appetizers — steamed mussels, raw oysters, shrimp cocktail, smoked bluefish, clam chowder, lobster rolls, fried clams — increased our joy like a dozen beach balls falling from the sky.
We kicked a lot of those balls around, and none was better than the Quahog chowder: meaty Massachusetts clams mounded with smoky nubs of bacon and diced potatoes and then bathed in steamy, double cream-based broth. Ipswich belly clams from the same state were coated with crackly, spicy deep-fried crusts to be dunked into mellow tartar sauce; crystalline homemade potato chips on the side likewise profited from a dip. "Grand Central's oyster pan roast" showcased succulent, barely poached bivalves floating on a raft of toast in a sea of shallot-and-thyme-tinged cream.
We were less impressed with a pair of "miniature" lobster rolls, a case of too much griddled brioche bread and too little Maine lobster — the latter lusciously lathered in crème fraîche. The pan-fried crab cake was likable enough atop a delicate, mustard-infused butter sauce.
Starters are too pricey (most go for $12 to $24); entrées are too prissy! Why go to all the trouble of decorating your restaurant Cape Cod-style and rack up the expense of flying distinctive fish from Massachusetts and Maine, only to present the seafoods fancy-Miami-hotel-restaurant style? Sweet little nuggets of Nantucket bay scallops, for instance, get plated with sage-hazelnut butter, roasted squash purée, sautéed greens, and antennae of fried parsnip — too arranged, too lukewarm, too much like you get everywhere else (for the same $28).
Doubly disappointing was the lobster potpie, a puny crustacean beneath an overbaked, removable pastry cap. This is an inauthentic, lazy man's potpie — the real deal being homemade bread (biscuit, cornbread, whatever) that seals in moisture and flavor as the pie bakes. Massachusetts sea scallops and vegetables such as carrots, peas, fingerling potatoes, corn, and whole baby onions were inarguably tasty in the creamy, sherried lobster bisque base, but the $44 price dictates better.
Of the mere four nonshellfish seafood entrées, only Maine codfish is prepared in a Cape Cod-like manner. It arrived almost the same as the clam chowder, with bacon, leeks, fingerlings, and double cream, but a pristine square of cod arrived in place of quahogs. Florida swordfish comes grilled with a green bean salad; salmon from Prince Edward Island is paired with Savoy cabbage and sea-foam butter; lemon sole from Maine is pooled in chive sauce with watercress salad on the side. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Nantucket anymore.
Nor are we in Narragansett, namesake town for the Cape Cod Room's spruced-up version of succotash. We're pretty sure those folks up North use lima beans in their rendition, but none were found in our à la carte side dish: a medley of corn, French green beans, snippets of asparagus stalks, and undercooked white beans. Go instead with fresh, simple mashed potatoes or a textbook mac and cheese.
There are a few meaty American comfort foods available for those who shun seafood. They include a crisply roasted poussin, grilled hanger steak, and stewed short ribs.
A wine list of some three dozen small vineyard selections focuses mostly on France — the only exceptions coming from Virginia and North Fork, Long Island. Most bottles are young (2004 to 2007) and moderately priced ($40 and $50 range); many are offered in quartino flasks (a third of a bottle). A dry, medium-bodied 2007 Roger Neveu Clos des Bouffants Sancerre fared favorably with the food's ocean flavors.
Waiters fared well too, working the dining room gracefully under the watchful gaze of GM Bevon Brahm. The staff was informed about the menu and served with an admirable professionalism.
A cup of tangy lemon curd accompanied the least buttery shortbread cookies I've ever had. Like entrées at the Cape Cod Room, it was too clever by half; a fat wedge of fresh lemon meringue pie would have packed a much bigger wallop. A crumb-capped apple-peach cobbler had more homespun appeal, but a side scoop of cinnamon ice cream elicited all the subtle pleasure of eating a spoonful of straight cinnamon powder.
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Complimentary saltwater taffies at meal's end are a nice touch. Not so a 21 percent service charge tacked to all checks (which includes "complimentary valet parking"). It brings two thoughts to mind:
1. We're slipping further and further away from what a tip is supposed to be.
2. Whoever came up with this idea is definitely the product of sea-slime.
Gee, letting us sea-salt-of-the-earth types in maybe wasn't such a hot idea after all.