Marion's Makeover Transforms It Into One of Brickell's Best Restaurants

A month after opening this past September, Marion seemed the culinary rebirth of artist George-Pierre Seurat's masterpiece Un Dimanche Aprés-Midi à l'Île de la Grande Jette. Like the 1884 painting depicting a well-appointed crowd enjoying a bucolic weekend afternoon in Paris, this gold-splashed, 260-seat bistro on the ground floor of a Brickell condominium building was awe-inspiring.

A mirror-backed bar bordered by curvaceous cherry-red wood amplified the room's gilded glow. Dangling bronze lamps and cookware reflected the warm aura throughout the expanse, which was humbly appointed with red and beige wicker chairs. Green banquettes and palm fronds strategically placed throughout the space turned what would be a hulking brasserie into a cozy bistro.

But like Seurat's iconic example of pointillism, it was indecipherable when you looked at it up close. One evening, a server appeared a mere three times: first to take orders, next to serve the meal, and finally to present the bill. That night, braised lamb belly was but a gamy hunk of fat atop a bland cassoulet.

Now, only a few months later, Marion's makeover is nothing short of miraculous. The whole rotisserie chicken — a dramatic, $42 affair presented and carved tableside — has become its signature dish. Birds from Murray's Chicken are pumped full of a salt-sugar brine before an hour-and-a-half twirl on a rotisserie. The result is as luxurious as a piece of slow-cooked pork. Even the notoriously dry breast gushes with each bite. The taut, crisp, bronzed skin has been painted with a thick lemon glaze, imparting a crackly, sugar-glass texture. The marble potatoes basted in the chicken's fat are a humble, perfect accompaniment.

Thirty-six-year-old New Zealander Jean Paul Lourdes was tapped by French owners Mathieu Massa and Michael Ridard (who also own Miami Beach's bacchanalian Bâoli) to create a menu inspired by southern France and infused with elements of Spain, Greece, and Italy.

They chose the right man to lead the copper-clad open kitchen. Around 2000, Lourdes gave up life in the perfume business to work for French legend Pierre Gagnaire after a chance meeting. Following a tour of duty in Michelin-starred kitchens around the world, he oddly took the reins of Restaurant Latour in suburban Sussex County, New Jersey. In 2014, the haute establishment earned a glowing review from the New York Times, and he was soon called upon to open Marion, named for Massa's younger sister, whom Ridard once dated.

Here, they've created a kind of place you might dine at two or three times a week if your pockets were deep enough.

Recently, the bounty of Mediterranean fare that includes a sprawling raw bar has been supplemented by a white truffle menu. Asparagus with a poached egg topped with gossamer slices of the precious fungus go for $49. But it's not impossible to be reasonable. That whole chicken, plenty for two, could be bolstered by a crudo of sea bream with translucent, snowy slices sporting a firm texture thanks to a quick dunk in orange juice. The punch of toasted cumin and crisped garlic offers an intoxicating perfume.

There have also been improvements in the bread. The kitchen opened baking 15 varieties. That's since been pared down to a half-dozen. The once overly dense slices of sourdough that graced each table at the beginning of a meal have been replaced by a mustier, lighter variety with a grainy, nutty crust.

The rest of the menu shows a similar disdain for complication but a lust for pricey ingredients. A pristine cacio e pepe — toothsome bucatini noodles in a sauce of pasta water and imported Pecorino-Romano cheese — is made with 00 flour and Malabar black pepper. The former is the only variety deemed acceptable for true Neapolitan-style pizza. The latter is imported through the chichi Indiana spice purveyor Terra Spice Company.

Marion's paella is founded on aged Calasparra rice cooked off in a fragrant lobster stock amped up with Kashmiri saffron. The base, by far the worthiest part of the dish, is crowned with a handful of shrimp, chicken pieces, and slices of the cured pork fat called lardo that melt into an unctuous meat butter by the time the pan arrives at your table.

A dish called "twenty-five tomatoes" is deceptively labeled. You won't find more than two dozen red, yellow, or green spheres in each bowl with a lobe of burrata from North Miami's Mimmo's Mozzarella. Instead, 25 is the number of nightshades it takes to imbue the sweet, piquant dressing with a deep tomato flavor that dresses the plate. Elsewhere, a 28-day dry-aged strip steak is cooked sous vide at 60 degrees Celsius, yielding a cut that's a perfect medium-rare throughout. A dab of compound butter and a tousle of threadlike pommesfrites sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary are a reminder of the delightfulness of simplicity.

The coda comes in the form of two slices of bittersweet chocolate terrine made with Valrhona chocolate whipped into a fluffy meringue and emulsified with a touch a cream and sugar. The result is sweet and just a touch bitter, with the texture of a rich cremeux melded with sinful fudge. The luxurious crème anglaise, dots of olive oil, and salted crushed pistachios capably cut the richness. You'll be left looking through the menu a final time, wondering when you'll see Marion again, and if she'll let you off for less money.

1111 SW First Ave., Miami; 786-717-7512; marionmiami.com. Monday through Thursday noon to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to midnight.

  • Twenty-five tomatoes, $16
  • Sea bream crudo, $16
  • Steak-frites, $34
  • Rotisserie chicken, $42
  • Marion paella, $36
  • Bucatini cacio e pepe, $14
  • Bittersweet chocolate terrine, $12

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