The Dining Room Packs Charm and Taste Onto Little Plates and Into a Tiny Space
Appropriately nestled south of Fifth, in South Beach, The Dining Room is the two-month old, intimately-sized restaurant of OLA owner Brian Lieberman. Pulling double duty between Lieberman's kitchens is The Dining Room's executive chef, Horacio Rivadero. Sous chef, Christian Alvarez, is the man in charge on the two or three nights a week that Chef Rivadero is at The Sanctuary. Recently, they hosted us for a complimentary tasting of the menu's most exciting dishes.
Reminiscent of a family-owned gem hidden in a Manhattan neighborhood, The Dining Room offers elegance that you can sense from the curb. Outside, a handful of candle-lit tables accommodate 24 people. The same number can sit inside, where a pleasant mix of Motown and jazz soothes the ears. The Dining Room is colored in a neutral palette including mocha walls and copper-tiled floors. A large mirror on the south wall makes the space seem larger than it is. Anchoring the interior -- and also serving as the restaurant's logo -- is a beautiful chandelier. Simple centerpieces decorate tables dressed in crisp, white linen. Family photos are conspicuously hung on the walls.
Sliced, chewy French baguette with pickled cucumbers and truffle butter were brought to the table before the meal. Off the little plates section of the menu, a trio of ceviches were tasted. As with OLA's ceviches, Chef Rivadero displays a knack for creating vivid flavors. My favorite was the red snapper tiradito ($9) with orange, lime juice, mango, aji amarillo, basil, and red onion. Off the lunch menu, the conch salad ($8) with red pepper, red onion, tomatoes, lime juice, habanero pepper, and cilantro is a collision of too many strong flavors. The dinner menu's cobia ceviche ($9), with fleshy cuts of the fish, is marinated in yuzu lime juice, red onions, cilantro, and aji limo, It is served with a grapefruit sorbet. Although the ceviches at The Dining Room might not be as artful as OLA's, they are just as incredible.
Also off the little plates portion of the menu, the vanilla butternut squash soup ($9) is an extraordinary vegan dish with a hint of vanilla that heightens the vegetable taste. The soup is light with diced green apple offering a varied texture. Lieberman's eyes grew wide when he announced the scallop ($12) wrapped in Serrano ham and set on an herb crostini over foie-gras sherry sauce. While the sherry sauce raises the caliber of the dish, and is complemented ideally in texture and taste by the herb crostini; just one scallop leaves the taste buds -- and the wallet -- wanting one more. It ain't cheap.
The starters section of the menu also offers smaller versions of the duck salad ($12) and Serrano ham & fig salad ($14). Our server, Jose, who was quite enthusiastic about the menu, suggested that the actual-sized portions be shared. The crispy duck confit, which was tender and flavorful, seemed wasted, thrown in a salad of arugula, grilled apricots, an overabundance of lima beans, and kumquat vinaigrette. Too much Serrano ham is tangled with the baby arugula, in the other salad, which contains pine nuts, grilled goat cheese, dried figs, and balsamic reduction, which neutralized the strong arugula taste. The steamed clams ($12) are as fresh and full of life as one could hope. They come served with roasted grape tomatoes, garlic, aji limo, and royal trumpet mushrooms.
The entrees I tasted included both fish dishes. Branzino ($26) is butterflied and served with no head in the usual presentation. It comes with lemon-mash potatoes, artichoke escabeche, and oregano oil. The dish is nearly perfect, executed in a way that suggests sophisticated comfort food. Halibut ($27) is pan seared and served with parsnip puree, brussels sprouts, roasted tomatoes, and trumpet mushrooms. The halibut is a flattering dish, however the branzino is the superior entree.
Filet mignon churrasco ($28) is a little charred on the outside and presented in a way that doesn't compromise the integrity of the meat, with the accompaniments of heirloom tomato blue cheese salad and malbec chimichurri taking a necessary backseat. Hazelnut herb-crusted rack of lamb ($33) is a surprisingly unique plate that utilizes confit artichokes, eggplant aioli, and beet mojo to its advantage. It was difficult to assess the value of the entree prices to portion, as these dishes were scaled down. With taste as my only barometer, the prices seem justifiable.
The baked Patagonia ($9) off the dessert menu is a pistachio cake, creamy dulce de leche ice cream, stiff Italian meringue, and passion fruit berry sauce that is pleasant, but hardly amicable in size for sharing.
The wine list, with just 15 choices by the bottle ($28 - $68) and only seven choices by the glass ($5.25 - $12) is a bit underwhelming. There is a $25 corkage fee. Reservations can be made by phone or via their website at least 24 hours in advance.
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