First Bites

Bistro Bal Harbour Proffers Atypical Seafood-Centric Hotel Food

Tonight is date night and you haven't any plans. Not to fear, Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour is here. Before you put your wallet away and wince with resentment, hear us out. Ritz-Carlton has added a new property to its Florida portfolio, clocking in the Sunshine State luxury resort count at 10. And as at all the others, there's a dining component. But unlike the others (with the exception of Dune Burger Lounge in Key Biscayne), this one's targeting locals with a seafood-centric menu.

"The focus is to play with ingredients from the surrounding area," says executive chef Jorge Ramos,who transferred over from South Beach to helm the kitchen of Bistro Bal Harbour, And while Ramos will be leaving Bistro Bal Harbour the first week of January to assume his new position as executive sous chef of Tom Colicchio's mystery restaurant at 1 Hotel & Homes, he's made sure to add his Puerto Rican influence to the menu, which will be in effect for at least an entire season.

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It's a shame that Ramos is leaving because much of what he's come up with is not your typical hotel food.

A glass encased raw bar in the corridor that leads into the restaurant also provides a peek into the kitchen. If you happen to recognize the space, that's because it is the former Mr. Collins. In other words, you have tremendous views of the Atlantic ocean. Maybe sit outside.

"Vieras" ($16) is Spanish for scallops. This dish, straight from the raw bar, features fresh and non-slimy scallop crudo (my usual problem with raw scallops) that have been quickly marinated in citrus, lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, Florida pickled jalapenos, and toasted cumin. "Cumin is my favorite because when you use it subtly, it gives flavor to dish you wouldn't get with any other spice," says Ramos. Add some crunch with the bowl of yucca chips that it comes with.

Tuna tartare ($17) is the best dish I had. Besides using some serious quality tuna, Ramos adds a Dijon-marinated crab salad to top it off. It's also served with a gazpacho vinaigrette that tastes somewhat whipped and has the perfect amount of sherry vinegar. Pro tip: order more gazpacho on the side and pour it all over the tartare.

Local snapper ceviche ($15) with shaved baby fennel, sweet peppers, and coriander.

Florida corn chowder ($14) is another winner. "Didn't want to do a seafood chowder, but definitely wanted to incorporate seafood into the dish." To do that, Ramos has cooked some clams and mussels with chorizo. The chowder then gets poured tableside.

Arugula salad ($15) with citrus, queso fresco, avocado, radish, heart of palm, and chive dressing.

Bacalaitos ($14) are a nod to his Puerto Rican heritage. The cod fritters are served with cilantro aioli and lemon. Out of everything I sampled, this was probably my least favorite. The frying was a bit too dense, and when combined with the saltiness of the fish, was a lot to chew on.

Grilled langoustines are a must. Especially because they're served with a chimichurri aioli, which is quite ingenious and also delicious.

Florida snapper filet ($29) served on a bed of saffron cous cous and under shaved vegetables and arugula.

In case you don't want to partake in all the seafood happenings, several cuts of meat are available from the grill. Choose from dry aged filet, skirt steak, rack of lamb, New York strip, or dry aged rib eye ($49). The latter came with truffle butter, but you can opt from béarnaise, chimichurri, or blue cheese.

Warm molten cake with dulcey mousse, pear compote, and almond cookie.

A play on key lime pie, key lime flan fuses Florida's quintessential dessert with Cuba's. It's garnished with malted milk crumble, citrus mascarpone, and Florida citrus.

"I wanted to do something with a local fruit and I thought what better fruit than guava," says Ramos. Spiced guava cheesecake is even more guava-ed out with guava sorbet and guava gel.

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Carla Torres found her inner gourmand voice while writing for Miami New Times in 2012. She has also worked with Travel & Leisure and Ocean Drive and today is involved with a tech startup. She balances passions for wine, sweets, yoga, and kayaking.