When it comes to 1960s retro, there are two classic styles to choose from: space-age atomic and tiki cool. The Continental, which opened about two weeks ago, goes with the latter.
Entering the restaurant, located in the new Aloft Hotel at 2360 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach, is almost like walking into a time warp. There are so many details — from the decal bragging about air conditioning in the restaurant on the front window (taken for granted now, but oh-so-big of a deal 50 years ago) to the custom-ordered swizzle sticks used to make cocktails. Even the uniforms are of a certain period. Hostesses wear cute aquamarine dresses and bright red tennis shoes and servers are clad in terrycloth cabana boy uniforms.
Although such dramatic attention to a time period in the past can be overdone, the Continental is careful. Instead, this focus feels like an authentic and loving ode to a time romanticized in AMC's Mad Men. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to not look around to see if Don Draper has, in fact, decided to chuck that hippie commune for early retirement in Miami.
The restaurant is actually the fourth Continental. This small chain of upscale nostalgia is the brainchild of restaurateur Stephen Starr, with the original in Philadelphia. That Continental, by the way, takes a cue from space-age design and features a martini-forward bar program. Miami Beach's Continental has more of a vacation vibe, as befits a restaurant located a block from the beach. Only a few menu items remain from the flagship's Continental menu — including an Astronaut martini, garnished with a Tang rim.
Cocktails, by the way, are a large part of the Continental experience, and there are two bars — one inside the restaurant, as well as a friendly pool bar. Specialty cocktails are heavily influenced by tiki culture and include tropical favorites like daiquiris, swizzles, and punches.
The Melolo Swizzle, made with Martinique coconut rum, Banana du Brazil, pineapple, and fresh basil, resembles a time when cocktails were layered by color ($14).
A Dominicana Old Fashioned, adds cinnamon and coconut to barrel-aged Dominican rum ($14).
For dinner, you can go two ways — American comfort food or Asian-inspired fare. For instance, Vietnamese summer rolls with tuna, crab, and avocado ($15) play alongside cheesesteak egg rolls ($16) and lobster shells and cheese ($17). Other apps range from the sublime vegetable plateau ($12), a tower of a dozen different raw veggies with various dips to a decadent foie gras and pancakes ($24), served with hollandaise, bacon, and maple syrup.
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Chicken potstickers with Chinese mustard dipping sauce ($12) were a shareable option on the Chinese specialties section of the menu.
The Chinese specialties, by the way, brought back a wave of nostalgia when I caught sight of the sizzling seafood wor bar ($25). This was the dish that we ordered at special Sunday family outings to Jade Palace in Brooklyn. When the waiter brought out the fragrant, sizzling dish on a giant skillet filled with shrimp, broccoli, and pieces of lobster, the entire room knew a birthday or anniversary was being celebrated. In this case, the occasion was merely it being a rainy Saturday evening.
The portions at Continental are generous, and the Korean fried chicken ($22), served with pickled vegetables, is shareable as an entree for two people or can be a good table order for a group.
Even if you can't eat one more bite, order the strawberry shortcake, served on a lemon scone with crème fraîche ice cream ($11). It's a classic dessert with a twist and a perfect way to sum up your experience at the Continental.