Restaurant Reviews

Crazy About You: Brickell hot spot has great plates at reasonable prices

Plenty of popular new restaurant concepts — small plates, food trucks, boutique burgers — have recently popped up around Miami. The team at Spanish Grupo La Misión, owner of Brickell mainstay Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita, have pioneered the notion of grabbing attention with a goofy, nonfood-related name. The group has struck again with Crazy About You, but there's another conceptual novelty at work here. It's called value.

The menu is set up much the same prix fixe way as at Dolores-Lolita. About a dozen salads/appetizers are listed on top — sans pricing, because whichever one you choose will be included with your entrée at no extra charge. The entrées are divided into three pricing options: $15.75, $19.75, and $23.75.

So let's say you decide to begin with serrano ham croquettes followed by a mojo-roasted half-chicken with spinach and artichokes. The cost for the two courses is $15.75. Want to add a glass of house wine? Four dollars. How about cappuccino flan for dessert? Ten dollars — nah, just kidding, but you might have believed me because that's what so many other restaurants charge. Crazy's desserts are $2.50 apiece.

Appetizers get split down the middle between hot and cold. The former includes those aforementioned ham croquettes, a signature item at Dolores. The six cylinders of serrano-studded potatoes are small (about two inches long) and so tender they melt on the tongue.

View a Crazy About You slide show.

Other heated starters are vegetable spring rolls, calamari with pepperoncini on flatbread, and huevos estrellados. Skip the huevos unless you're in the mood for a Denny's-style breakfast — a skillet pan with loose shreds of hash browns and mushrooms topped by fried eggs. The lentil soup (offered along with a soup of the day) is also a weak point. The tomato base and beef infusion make it a heavier version than most, although not entirely unsatisfying.

Cold apps comprise mainly salads: a classic wedge with Roquefort dressing; a not-at-all-classic Mexican Caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and guacamole); a flavor-packed panoply of spinach, goat cheese, pecans, and butternut squash spiked with sesame dressing; and "the real caesar" salad. Given three whole hearts of romaine lettuce drizzled with dressing, thin planks of shaved Parmesan littered atop the leaves, and two long Parmesan crostini, some diners might question what's so "real" about the plate. Whole leaves? No anchovies? Generally acknowledged creator Caesar Cardini never used the little fish and supposedly served the leaves whole in order to be eaten with the fingers. (Then again, one can never be sure, for there are more claimants to the so-called true caesar recipe than anchovies in a can.)

Entrées in the $15.75 category include a couple of snack-like meals, such as a duo of fish sliders (fried Key West dolphin and seared ahi tuna) and a thin-crusted pizza with "fresh hand-crushed cherry tomato sauce" and a blanket of melted mozzarella cheese (also offered "diavola"-style or with "applewood BLT" topping).

One can also find in this bargain-bin batch an expansive cutlet of chicken Milanese that nearly covers the plate, along with a pile of zesty arugula salad; a pasta-free pasta Bolognese made from zucchini ribbons (which looked and smelled good passing by us in the room); and the aforementioned mojo-roasted half-chicken with spinach and artichokes — a big bird, moist and bathed with mellow mojo sauce, a nod to head chef Adonix Renteria's native Cuba.

The $19.75 courses encompass gnocchi with shrimp and salsa de aji amarillo; seared sea-salted salmon; "Mikey's slow-braised steak" (with Portobello mushrooms and creamy arborio rice); and a pair of fall-off-the-bone tender "petite pork ossobuco" (really pork ribs) slicked with a slightly spicy, slightly sweet, barbecue-style sauce. A mound of fluffy mashed potatoes on the side had spinach woven through it.

Eight-ounce skirt-steak flaps of juicy, char-grilled veal churrasco lead off the $23.95 list with gusto — as tasty as any other cut of veal I've had in some time. Chimichurri sauce and a tin of cleanly crisp shoestring fries are apt accompaniments.

Other high-range choices are New York strip steak with Gorgonzola butter; Kobe miniburgers; miso-glazed orange roughy; and a messy medley of one lobster cannelloni, two seemingly boiled shrimp, and three seafood ravioli blanketed by red sauce. The churrasco is the best choice.

(The bill of fare at lunch, incidentally, offers some of the same items and works the same way as at dinner, except with smaller portions and lower prices: $13.75, $16.75, and $20.75.)

The dessert menu is a little Ferris wheel; as you spin it, the options, individually written on small cards, flip up one by one: a deconstructed mojito of lime sorbet and rum jelly (refreshing!); cappuccino flan (creamy and delicious); and the only $5 treat, "Message in a Bottle." The last involves a large white plate and a tray filled with a warm homemade brownie, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, strawberries, vanilla whipped cream, and chocolate syrup and powder. It's a do-it-yourself deal, and though I would rather have had the kitchen staff do it for me, the brownie was tasty.

Oh, and the bottle in the name: It's a giant Stoli vessel with paper and a pen. You write a message and put it in, and at month's end, the best are selected and their authors rewarded with free meals for two. Crazy is a fun place this way.

But here's the real kicker: Though budget dining generally implies a matching budget décor, Crazy About You is lovely in a more upscale manner than prices suggest. The location in the Mark Building on Brickell Bay Drive is off the street and out of sight, which might explain why prior venues here failed (the first occupant was the hallowed La Broche; the last was Mendoza). This time around, it seems word of mouth is helping folks find the place.

Guests enter through a warm, casual, and pretty lounge with a full-service bar and a cohesive mix of couches, beanbag chairs, high-top tables, and coffee tables, all spaced in little nooks here and there. A sleek, glassed-in wine rack takes up one wall.

The house wine is $14, but there are also dozens of more sophisticated and well-priced selections. Bottled beers such as Stella and Mahou go for $6.

View a Crazy About You slide show.

Once you pass through the lounge, a podium appears, behind which affable hostesses (some in short black miniskirts; think Lolita, not Dolores) greet you. Black-and-white murals of palatial Italian rooms blend with warm woods in the stylish dining room, which is stocked with plush white leather chairs and wrapped by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Biscayne Bay. Tables on the terrace beckon with the same view and a breezier setting.

The young service staff isn't exactly polished, but it gets the job done in genial fashion. On one occasion, our waiter was right on top of everything, while other workers smoothly hustled through the crowded room. (Note to restaurateurs who charge double these prices: The place was crowded even on a Monday evening.) A smiling manager also swept by quickly and unobtrusively to see that all was well.

I'm crazy about that amiable attitude, crazy about the ambiance, crazy about some of the freshly prepared cuisine, and, most of all, crazy about the concept of giving diners a fair shake.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein