Bagatelle: The Ultimate Dinner Party on South Beach

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One of the big misconceptions about Miami is that we have a plethora of restaurants that are the equivalent of a full-on dinner party. Sure, there are the obvious options (Seaspice and Baoli), but when a friend recently asked me where a group of six girls from out-of-town should dine out as a precursor to  the evening – a type of pregame feast of both food and drink – I was stumped. Of course that was before Bagatelle and STK opened their doors just five blocks from each other. And while both are totally different (one leans towards French technique while the other is a modern steakhouse) the proposition is the same: start your night here.

Bagatelle is a brand that needs no introduction. They've done quite the job at classifying themselves as the clubby alternative to dining. No party trip to New York is complete without splurging on a bottle at Bagatelle brunch, and now visitors can do the same at the South Beach location, which opened a little over a month ago.

As for dinner, this isn't the type of place you come to if you're trying to have a romantic and intimate dinner. It is, however, the type of place you come to if you want to be surrounded by beautiful people, maybe meet someone, and money is no object.

New Times was invited in on a recent Friday night to see just what date night at Bagatelle is like. I arrived at 9 p.m. (the time of my reservation) and was seated immediately, which was nice.

Music was going but the volume wasn't overpowering to our conversation, yet. Looking around the dining room, there wasn't a single table that was not drinking. To keep up, we ordered a French 305 (the Miami equivalent of a French 75) and glass of wine.

While a DJ mans the decks in the dining room, Matthew Godard (formerly of DB Bistro) is holding it down in the kitchen. His emphasis when creating Bagatelle's menu for Miami was to keep things light and refreshing. "Bagatelle's roots are Southern French so we tried to put a touch of sun on the menu," he says. "While the French accents are abundant because we are in Miami we have lots of crudo and seafood dishes. With a restaurant that's close to the beach and people try to watch what they eat it's important to look good and for the dishes to look good on the plate."

To Godard's surprise (not so much ours), the most ordered item on the menu thus far has been the caviar (offered at market price). "I've never sold so much caviar throughout my career – maybe once in a while, but now I sell caviar every day."

There's also seafood towers and platters, which graced more tables than not. Choose from the St. Tropez ($85), which boasts eight oysters, two stone crab claws, six shrimp, five littleneck clams, eight mussels, seafood ceviche, and Scottish salmon tartare; or go big with Le Sobe ($185), which is pretty much double and has Alaskan king crab and Maine lobster. There's also the L'imperial Bagatelle, but as the menu states (MP) "order it at your own risk."
As per our server's recommendation, we opted for tuna tartare ($19), which stacks yellowfin tuna with avocado salad and drizzles lime soy vinaigrette on top.
Salade de crabe aux agrumes ($22) is fancy French for jumbo lump crab salad with ruby red grapefruit, orange segments, avocado, frisee, and yuzu dressing.
At about 10 p.m. and in cue with the arrival of our charcuterie board ($39), which is chef's selection of terrines and cured meats, things started getting a little louder.

The first bottle of the night was purchased, and true to Bagatelle form, it came with a show. In this case it was Rocky Balboa themed, of course, and climaxed with fire and smoke going off. This caused a domino effect (because Miami) and Superwoman delivered bottle number two shortly thereafter.

"On the entrée side of the menu we have the French roots," says Godard. "I'm from Normandy and in my state we don't really care how we look we just eat, so I always need to add a touch of richness, even to the seafood dishes."

Seafood entrees include cedar wrapped Florida red snapper with quinoa tabouleh, avocado espuma, and tropical sauce vierge ($33); Maine diver sea scallops with carnaroli crispy risotto, jamon iberico, and fennel pesto ($39); jumbo prawns with saffron fregola sarda, littleneck clams, tomato confit and ratatouille jus ($45); and braised black grouper with laughing bird shrimp, hearts of palm, grilled scallions, moqueca broth, and shaved coconut ($36).

We opted for the petit loup de mer ($36). The boneless branzino was served over olive oil crushed potatoes with baby spinach, trumpet mushrooms, and Meyer lemon chicken jus.

More of a meat eater? Choose between whole farm raised truffled chicken ($69); Chairman reserve 24 ounce center cut beef tenderloin with bernaise and peppercorn sauce for two ($145); grilled Cornish hen with roasted garlic, chorizo fingerling potatoes, and devil sauce ($34); or grilled rack of lamb with baby romaine, horiatiki salad, sheep feta cheese, and oregano-chile chimichurri ($42). There's also USDA petite filet or New York strip steak.
Goat cheese cheesecake with cilantro wasn't your typical cheesecake. But at Bagatelle, nothing is typical and everything (including the prices) is over the top. But hey, it's the "joie de vivre" way.

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