A scoop of milky almond purée is smeared across a gray ceramic plate. Then comes a heap of arugula, glistening chunks of golden orange, bits of almond, and a generous drizzle of a rich, nutty, and slightly sweet Jerez vinaigrette.
But the magic comes from within. Peeking through the emerald salad are four pieces of poached and chargrilled octopus. Its crisp exterior explodes with a blackened flavor, the center remains soft and tender, and a sweet citrus zest keeps the dish light and refreshing.
The octopus à la plancha is just one highlight on the menu at Boulud Sud (JW Marriott Marquis, 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami; 305-421-8800; bouludsud.com/miami), the latest Miami venture for James Beard Award-winning French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud. The concept, which takes the place of DB Bistro Moderne, his former restaurant in the same space, serves a modern interpretation of his cuisine inside a re-energized and decidedly more glamorous atmosphere. It's his way of adapting to a more casual dining culture without compromising quality.
Boulud Sud is a spinoff of a place the chef opened in Manhattan in 2011. "As the restaurant evolved in New York," Boulud says with a thick French accent, "I felt the cuisine would be very appropriate in Miami."
After nearly 50 years in the industry, the culinary master from Lyon, France, who sports fine black side-swept hair, remains remarkably busy. He operates restaurants and grab-and-go food stalls from New York to Boston, London, and Singapore. In South Florida, he debuted the still-successful French restaurant Café Boulud more than 15 years ago, followed by the opening of the contemporary French bistro DB Bistro Moderne in 2010.
Though DB Bistro Moderne showed no signs of failure, Boulud closed the restaurant in September 2017. The previous year, the chef had hosted a short-lived Boulud Sud pop-up there.
"We decided it was time to refresh the restaurant," he says. "But then it just made sense to change the concept entirely. It's a lot more casual but still very sophisticated."
Miami's Boulud Sud offers fare from alluring locations such as the French Riviera, Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, Lebanon, and Turkey. There's not a single white tablecloth in sight in the 6,350-square-foot space. Light-wood furnishings, golden fixtures, live plants, and a playful Moroccan-tiled floor fill the space.
A glowing bar, located adjacent to the dining room, is lined with sparkling glass bottles on five long shelves. Various plush couches sit near the center, providing a comfortable spot to lounge. Before you dine, sip a Mediterranean cocktail such as the Chow Bella, a blend of bourbon, Aperol, aqua faba, cinnamon, and lemon ($15).
The kitchen is helmed by Clark Bowen, a seven-year Boulud vet who began at DB Bistro Moderne in 2011 as sous-chef and later became executive toque. He oversees a menu with nearly 40 items divided into sections such as "Small," "Medium," "Large," "Pastas," and "Simply grilled." Despite the breadth of the menu, Bowen executes each dish exceptionally.
First, you'll nibble on a complimentary platter of doughy, house-baked focaccia served with olive oil. Then request the mezze platter ($15). In the center, two lightly fried herb falafel and a handful of crisp crackers come ready to plunge into a spicy Moroccan hummus and an eggplant baba ghanouj. Each creamy dip is crowned with a tablespoon of olive oil that is best stirred before digging in. Consider an order of barbajuans, a French Rivera-influenced fritter stuffed with short rib and Swiss chard. Small enough to consume whole, the warm turnover pastries are served in groups of five with a dash of Parmesan and cracked pepper ($15).
Move on to the medium-size items, whose aforementioned octopus à la plancha stands out ($21). Then there's one of Boulud's favorites: the Andalusian gazpacho. The light rendition, spiked with watermelon and cucumber, bursts with flavor ($12). There is also a classic Greek salad blended with cucumber, olive, feta cheese, and red onion that is seasoned with salt, oregano, and olive oil ($14). But this one is sharp and slightly overpowering.
Of the main plates, the Catalan grilled skirt steak is an absolute must. Though you might not expect a Mediterranean restaurant to cook a lean and juicy steak, Boulud's interpretation is a savory surprise. With a caramelized exterior and a velvety center, the steak erupts with a salty tang. It's best paired with an order of patatas bravas in garlic aioli or a bowl of Parmesan herb fries ($8 each). The steak's size is disappointing, limited to five slim slices for $29. But its flavor is an excellent redemption.
Fans of Boulud will enjoy an order of the chicken tagine ($28). Showered in a blend of North African spices, from coriander to cardamom, the dish is comparable to a stew piled with couscous, cauliflower, turnips, and roast chicken. Cooked inside a tagine — a shallow clay pot with a conical top to create steam — the dish unleashes a cloud of mist as it is unveiled to the table. Unlike the steak, this item is enormous. It can be easily shared by two or three diners.
Among the three pastas, the agnolotti shines ($16 to $25). It offers a delicate blend of pumpkin, sage, guanciale — an Italian cured meat — and salted ricotta. It's not too heavy, leaving you satisfied.
Any visit to Boulud Sud must end with dessert by pastry chef Saeko Nemoto. First, request a warm basket of madeleines ($8). An order comprises more than two dozen petite sponge cakes, each in the shape of a shell. Then consider the grapefruit givre ($13), served inside a hollowed-out grapefruit and stuffed with a sweet sorbet, sesame foam, and Turkish cotton candy.
Boulud Sud is a welcome addition to Miami's downtown and Brickell neighborhoods. He has proven his ability to adapt to a new, younger, and more energetic clientele; one that strays from tablecloths and gravitates toward approachable, reasonably priced fare.
"Downtown has changed a lot since I first got here seven years ago," Boulud says. "It wasn't easy back then. But now, all the towers are built and it's a much more settled neighborhood. Who knows? I may open another DB Bistro in another place in Miami. But for now, I think this is exactly what the area needs."