Waterfront: Miami's got a lot of it. Twenty percent of the county's total area is water.
Waterfront restaurants? Hmm. If you mean places diners can get up close and personal with nature — where they can virtually feed fish from their table, and the sound of salt water lapping is louder than the sound system — well, not so much. If you subtract snackeries aimed at the "three T-shirts, 10 bucks" crowd, you can pretty much count Miami's serious, quietly hip waterfront restaurants on one hand. And have fingers left over.
Which makes it especially weird that the Bayside Grill hasn't stirred a frenzy since its opening late last year. The casually cool outdoor dining patio is tucked in back of the Standard, Andre Balazs's spa/hotel. Unlike Balazs's Raleigh, on South Beach's high-profile oceanside hotel strip, the Standard is on Belle Isle, the first Venetian Island west of SoBe's more sedate bay side, which might explain the relatively quiet reception. The island retains an old-time villagelike feel, and the hotel, a tasteful renovation of the historic MiMo Lido (whose sign still remains, above the Standard's smaller, signature upside-down logo) seems happy to blend serenely into its setting rather than scream "Pawrrrty!"
(at the Standard Hotel), 40 Island Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-1717. Open daily for lunch noon to 6:00 p.m.; dinner 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. (Friday and Saturday to midnight).
Still, a SoBe dinner that doesn't require chewing in rhythm to thumping DJ music would be reason enough for celebration, even if Bayside's food weren't all that good. And it's quite good. While the panoramic Biscayne Bay view dominates the dining deck, a monster-size grill shares the glory — and about half the menu. This mix-and-match section focuses on marinated main ingredients (steaks, seafood, or tofu), grilled and served with choice of a vegetable side and, from another list, a sauce. The concept is like that of Tom Colicchio's Craft in NYC, but simplified, and it works — mostly.
What doesn't: the tofu, a thoughtful gesture for vegetarians, but severely overmarinated to sour sogginess. In contrast, a whole boneless butterflied trout was so skillfully marinated that the moist, flavorful fish needed no sauce. The same could be said for a perfectly medium-rare skirt steak, although chef Mark Zeitouni's yellow tomato béarnaise, a lighter take on the butter-packed French sauce, added a satisfying soupçon of sin.
More shamelessly sinful was a side of thyme-and-sea-salt-seasoned French fries, served in a paper cone with ketchup and gloriously garlicky aioli. Though most veg sides are diet-friendly (yet tasty, especially haricots verts, lemon-sprinkled and beautifully smoky from the grill), the shoestring fries are well worth a small fall from Health Heaven. They're without a doubt the best frites I've had west of Belgium.
The menu's other half comprises chef-conceived dishes, largely Mediterranean-inspired and healthful but, again, allowing for indulgences such as a witty plate of three custom-cooked minicheeseburgers, garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, aioli, and imported cornichons.
Other highlights from two dinners and one lunch included rare herb-seared slices of local tuna with zesty romesco (a garlicky almond-pepper Catalan condiment) and herb salad; a fritto misto of crisped baby artichokes and panisse (airy-textured, cumin-spiced chickpea flour fries) with aioli; and burratina cheese. The last can be found at many trendy Miami eateries, but the dairy-rich freshness of Bayside's cream-centered mozzarella made a huge difference, as did accompaniments of haricot vert salad and a subtle truffle vinaigrette.
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Among all chef-prepared creations sampled, the only disappointment was pumpkin soup. The purée came poured over a lovely, lightly rich nutmeg-spiced cauliflower flan, but was itself stupefying bland, badly in need of salt and general livening.
The lunch menu is more limited, and service spottier — close to clueless. At dinner, waiters were competent and kind. On one drizzly evening they rushed around to build an umbrella "roof" over our table while assuring us that if the weather worsened, they would whisk us into the Standard's indoor Lido dining room (which serves the same menu, sans view).
Most other diners during our three visits seemed to be hotel guests. An amusing option for locals is to buy a spa day pass ($40 on weekdays, $50 on weekends), which gives you access to both indoor and outdoor facilities — Turkish bath, garden pool, much more — to shape up before pigging out. First a minivacation and then miniburgers with fries — with water view. That's why we live here.