Brasserie Azur Is Solid but Needs Polishing

Midtown's 3-month-old Brasserie Azur is incredibly good-looking. As you walk past the royal palms out front and make your way into the dining room, your eyes are immediately drawn to the open-paneled ceiling. It's lit in a warm amber hue and interlaced with fuchsia florals and lush greenery. Edison bulbs hang from the panels, adding a distinctly industrial touch to an otherwise rustic space outfitted in neutral tones. There's also a foosball table, because, why not?

But rest assured you won't find any of the pomp associated with its South Beach sister party spot, Villa Azur. That vibe isn't what business partners and lifelong friends Michael Martin and Jean Philippe Bernard were aiming for with their second venture. Sure, both eateries serve French fare with an Italian twist by executive chef Edwin Mallet, but Brasserie Azur is the restaurateurs' more casual and affordable concept.

Here, you'll find plenty of wines by the glass for $8 or less and bottles for under $50, which is increasingly rare in Miami. Food-wise, there's a well-stocked raw bar and an impressive selection of charcuterie and cheeses, as well as five rotisserie-chicken preparations.

Appetizers include typical French bistro staples such as escargots de Bourgogne, foisgras, and a steak tartare prepared tableside. My guest and I opted for the snails, which arrived shrouded in a scintillating coat of rich garlic butter. The sauce was excellent, but the mollusks were too chewy and suffered from an overly fishy taste. What's more, yet another seemingly hard-to-mess-up bistro favorite — mussels in a white-wine-and-garlic sauce — was also acrid and overcooked. Le sigh.

The restaurant doesn't have a chef de cuisine yet, and Mallet, a native of Limoges, is assisted by two sous-chefs. Before joining the Villa Azur brand in 2013, the toque worked at Pastis, Tantra, Guerite, and Maccheroni, all in France. As for the owners, French-born Martin and Bernard were serious players on the local nightlife scene (LIV and Nikki Beach Group, respectively) and joined forces in 2012 to launch Villa Azur. The SoBe restaurant-meets-lounge has since become known for its over-the-top Thursday-night soirees, glamorous international clientele, and visiting DJs.

Brasserie Azur, which resides in the former Mercadito space, is geared more toward the local crowd. Martin says the partners saw an opportunity to participate in midtown Miami's boom. While their new eatery feels too large to be called cozy, the atmosphere is decidedly laid-back. That said, in keeping with Villa Azur tradition, there's a live DJ Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

But back to the food. Things started looking up with the arrival of artichoke carpaccio. Wafer-thin slivers of artichoke were chaperoned by equally thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and then crowned with vibrant arugula leaves. The dish was misted with a lemon vinaigrette that nicely drew out the bitterness of the lettuce and complemented the delicate crunchiness of the artichokes. It was simple yet far from boring.

Martin says the decision to offer rotisserie chicken was easy because it's a ubiquitous feature in French brasseries. In Miami, however, it's still somewhat of a novelty. Choosing among a plain farm-raised chicken, one marinated in truffles, and one flavored with lemon and rosemary wasn't easy, but we went for the most basic bird. The logic was that if the kitchen could execute the plain chicken well, the more elaborate options would be equally good, if not better. Chef Mallet says they slow-roast the bird until the meat is juicy and tender. And indeed, the protein boasted both of those qualities in addition to being expertly seasoned. Few things are as comforting as a beautifully roasted whole chicken, and Brasserie Azur does the beloved classic proud.

During our visit, the catch of the day was Dover sole — arguably the most pristine of white fish. But alas, it was exceedingly dry and lacking flavor. What a waste. The sole, along with the mussels, went virtually untouched, but our waiter, who seemed distracted throughout the evening, didn't bother to inquire why. It was a serious faux pas, especially considering the fish costs $49. Conversely, our side orders of finely cut fries and roasted mushrooms with parsley and garlic brimmed with delicious flavor.

Brasserie Azur's pastry chef is François Paille, and a nice feature to showcase his sweets is the restaurant's old-school dessert trolley. For $16, you can choose three items from the cart, whose options skew toward the traditional. Raspberry cheesecake, chocolate mousse, and apple tart with almond custard are all good, but there's simply no wow factor — nothing to set them apart from the competition.

And on the topic of competition, French-fueled Bistro Cassis is just around the corner, and Buena Vista Deli & Bistro are only minutes away. So while Brasserie Azur is certainly the prettiest and largest of the pack, it will need more than good looks and topnotch rotisserie chicken to fill all of its cushioned seats. Superior service and more refined cookery are what this newcomer requires to leave its mark on Miami's ever-improving dining scene.

Brasserie Azur
3252 NE First Ave., Miami; 786-800-9993; brasserieazur.com. Lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

  • Artichoke carpaccio $16
  • Escargots Bourgogne $12
  • Moules marinières $16
  • Plain farm-raised whole chicken $33
  • Dover sole $49
  • French fries $5
  • Roasted mushrooms $6
  • Three desserts from the cart $16

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