Actor Olivier Martinez confirmed his engagement to Halle Berry at a promotional affair for Villa Azur, which he co-owns with French friends Michael Martin and Jean Philippe Bernard. Martinez has been called "the French Brad Pitt." Martin has been hosting nightlife parties at sundry South Beach clubs since he arrived here in 1995. Bernard brings management expertise from, most recently, Nikki Beach properties. And Halle Berry, as you know, is hot, but has nothing to do with this venture. The trio's aim is to bring the French Riviera to the American Riviera, or more specifically, to import "the South of France lifestyle to South Beach."
Just what South Beach needs: more lifestyle.
You can never have too many beautiful dining spaces, though, and Villa Azur is certainly lovely. The indoor area, which encompasses a bar and lounge alongside the dining room, mimics the sleek, sumptuous, yet relaxed style of cafés on the Côte d'Azur. It's a medley of modern décor and country French: wood plank floors, bookshelves, chandeliers, sconces, fireplaces, flowing drapes, high-backed chairs, and a DJ booth. French doors open onto a leafy, lushly landscaped courtyard patio -- one of the prettiest around.
The menu of executive chef Mickael Bensa, a native of Nice (and most recently chef de cuisine at the Strand in Saint-Tropez), concentrates mostly on Mediterranean territory, with occasional forays into other parts of France and Italy. Butter, not olive oil, accompanies a basket of assorted predinner rolls, but so does tapenade; our serving, unfortunately, tasted tinny.
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Otherwise, the fare proved fresh and was prepared in a competent fashion. Nothing, however, stood out as special. One uninspired dish followed another to the table like a string of second-tier stars strutting the red carpet during an off year at the Oscars.