La Petite Maison Is Brickell's French Fling

Turbot aux artichauts barigoule.
Turbot aux artichauts barigoule.
Courtesy of La Petite Maison
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It's hard to remember the last time people in Miami spoke of sitting down to a proper French meal. The talk these days is all slabs of cauliflower, short ribs, and oily fish. Terrines, pâtés, and other varieties of charcuterie have thankfully remained ensconced in the hipster menus of the moment.

But life isn't complete without regular helpings of trout almondine, sole meunière, canard a l'orange, or whatever archetype of French fare suits your fancy. Even though legions of successful chefs in Miami credit their achievements to French training, it seems few want to cook those dishes.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Arjun Waney, the restauranteur behind Zuma and Coya, announced he would open a Miami outpost of his London-based southern French inspired La Petite Maison. Only a handful of French restaurants have opened in recent years: Hialeah's La Fresa Francesa, Pascal Oudin's Brasserie Central in Merrick Park, Brickell's Marion, and Stephen Starr's Le Zoo in the Bal Harbour Shops. Waney's latest undertaking opened in February with the feeling of an art gallery in the Marais, a seaside beach shack near Nice, and a touch of extravagance culled from the grand dining rooms of Paris or Monaco.

The pomp and circumstance is well worth it. Bow-tied and aproned servers offer deep knowledge of the menu, and are eager to suggest the house's most expensive, drinks, wines, and appetizers. Yet the former doesn't disappoint.

Coquilles St. Jacques
Coquilles St. Jacques
Photo by Zachary Fagenson

The kitchen, led by executive chef Raphael Duntoye, turns out an impressive array of southern French dishes that make liberal use of seafood, olive oil, and a bounty of vegetables like eggplant and sweet bell peppers that have become so adored along with the rest of Mediterranean cuisine.

The restaurant's coquilles St. Jacques ($25) is among the most delightful crudos of recent memory. The raw preparation has become de rigeurin so many restaurants around town that it hardly warrants attention. This scallop dish emerges on a sprawling frosted glass platter whisked through the dining room on high. The bivalves are cut into almost impossibly thin coins. The knife work dispatches of any potential, and given the buttery sweet oceanic pop of every bite, it's highly unlikely there was any to begin with. Nothing here is hidden under a frilly mound of microgreens. Instead, a scattering of slivered almonds and dried cranberry flecks add delicate licks of salt and sugar to each bite. Raw preparations also include a razor thin octopus crudo ($18) as well as warm prawns split lengthwise and doused in grassy olive oil ($22.50).

Moving on to the more complex, the beignets make a strong case that the fried dough devoured by countless drunkards and early risers at New Orleans' Cafe Du Monde have almost limitless potential. Here, they're paired with delicate tempura fried squash blossoms that sit somewhere between an artichoke heart and floral-scented Bibb lettuce. The moist, intensely salty anchovies alongside add a solid note of seasoning, while the sage tucked inside the fish help tamp down their oiliness and brighten every bite.

Beignets with tempura courgette flowers and sage-stuffed anchovies.
Beignets with tempura courgette flowers and sage-stuffed anchovies.
Courtesy of La Petite Maison

Entrées follow the first course's lead and the list includes no less than six seafood offerings alongside a handful of steaks and poultry. The most reasonably priced is a bowl of frilly-edged, house-made pasta tossed in a light tomato broth with squid, prawns, and chorizo ($23.50). Regrettably there is no chorizo to speak of and one shrimp split in half to give the appearance of more. That being said, it's still a plate full of surprises, particularly when you spoon up the slightly sweet, tangy broth with a few slivers of salty olive.

Meanwhile, the larger seafood preparations are just as enamoring. For one a thick, bone-in section of turbot ($38) is washed in a fragrant olive oil and white wine sauce and served with braised wedges of fennel and sweet cherry tomato. The combination of the fennel's anise with the fish's soft, buttery flesh for a moment makes you forget the staggering price tag.

So too does the service. Once entrées are cleared a waiter comes by with a crumber, which might be one of the most rarely seen objects in Miami hospitality. Commonplace in white table cloth establishments, the little concave metal contraptions serve to gather up and whisk away any refuse that didn't make its way into your mouth. We need more of these.

For a neighborhood like Brickell, which has long struggled to secure and maintain quality restaurants, La Petite Maison is at least a flash of hope. Who the long-term clientele will be is unclear. Corporate expense accounts? Absentee condo owners stashing cash anywhere but their home country?

In the meantime, the place also seems to be enjoying a moment in the spotlight. On one night, South Beach Wine and Food Festival Director Lee Brian Schrager was holding court around a table of eight while Republican strategist and political commentator Ana Navarro enjoyed dinner no less than a few feet away. Hopefully, the place has the same lure in six months.

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