Casablanca Seafood Bar & Grill on the Miami River has been highly successful for more than 20 years, so it's almost surprising it took this long to open another location. Now the Doubletree Hilton near Biscayne Boulevard and the Venetian Causeway is home to Casablanca on the Bay, overlooking the Sea Isle Marina.
Expectations are high with two accomplished toques in the kitchen: chef Joaquin Perea, a Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts graduate who previously worked at the Fontainebleau, and chef de cuisine Wilbert Sauceda, who hails from Sra. Martinez. For now, though, the breathtaking space -- featuring indoor and outdoor seating areas, a 36-foot wraparound bar, and a spectacular view -- outshines the menu.
We tried several items from the list of options, which includes more than 50 dishes, from steaks and pork dishes to pastas and pizzas.
We started with a mediocre caprese salad ($10), consisting of nondescript mozzarella and equally inconspicuous tomatoes. A fish ceviche ($14) was also underwhelming.
Next came shrimp escargots ($12), served in an escargot dish with one full-size shrimp stuffed in each cavity and covered with a heavy umbrella of fontina cheese and herbs. This dish stood out from the pack. If you love shrimp and you love cheese, you will be in shrimp-cheese heaven.
Flatbread pizzas made the caprese salad a superstar by comparison. The dough was soggy and the crust somewhat burnt. You'd think the addition of a wood-fired oven to the space would mean more attention would be given to the pizza, but neither the short-rib flatbread ($12) nor the margarita flatbread ($12) was more than edible.
Fortunately, two of our entrées were decent to above-average, namely the paella Casablanca ($27 to $48) and Casablanca's famous grilled parrillada ($29). I've had better elsewhere, particularly regarding the paella, but both dishes were loaded with fresh seafood and were sufficiently palate-pleasing. Especially tasty was the mixed grill, including shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, calamari, and fish, with a tomato, cilantro, and onion aioli. You can add a baby churrasco ($13) and/or a broiled lobster tail ($20), and the grill definitely serves more than one person.
Desserts were middling to fantastic. The key lime pie -- creamy and delicately sweet -- was the big winner.
We also tried some drink items, but apart from our delight at a cocktail dubbed the Colombian Nightmare, along with the shrimp escargot, were not overly impressed. For drinks and a light bite after work or on a Saturday afternoon, Casablanca will do, but don't expect too much.
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