Safi Restaurant & Gourmet Market Attempts to Leave Mark Among Difficult Downtown Competition

When 50 Biscayne was completed on the corner of Flagler Street and US-1 as Miami's fourth tallest building, it was supposed to quickly fill ground level storefronts with bustling enterprises. Now as the city's 14th tallest building, the massive 554-foot structure may have finally reached that goal. Though it took until just recently to rent those storefronts, the scene is thriving with unique eateries. There's Porketta, the Italian pork restaurant and a Japanese noodle bar named Himachi. Pizza Rustica helped spark the emergence, and now Safi Restaurant & Gourmet Market is hoping to cement the building's place in the competitive downtown market.

Safi took over the 14,000-square-foot space once occupied by the sparsely-attended lounge/nightclub Mia. Marketing manager Liza Santana of the Creativas Group blames the failure on a panicked constant shifting of the place's idea.

"We plan to stay loyal to our concept," said Santana, who also took over marketing for Safi. "We want to be a cozy chill environment avoiding the pretentious velvet rope feeling of South Beach where you can get great food, lay back have a martini and enjoy live music."

For the live music part, Safi seeks to be a platform for emerging local artists and plans on holding open casting calls regularly. The collapsible stage makes fashion shows a very real possibility and the DJ booth hanging in between the ground floor and well-placed terrace level will soon be occupied with the best the 305 has to offer.

The menu can be described as an Italian-Mediterranean fusion with a touch of Latin American influence. They brought in Latin general manager Larry Morales from Duffy's and Frank Ferreiro from Perricone's, also a market/restaurant. The menu features appetizers like tuna tartare ($11.00) with pickled ginger, avocado, mango and wonton chips; octopus carpaccio ($7.95) with baby arugula, radish, lemon and olive oil; and a fabulous antipasto platter ($11.95) with salami, coppa, 400-day prosciutto di parma, artisanal seasonal cheeses and cured veggies.

Highlights from the lunch menu include the gnocchi al forno ($8.95) with four cheese gratinata. The texture suggests the gnocchi was homemade, as every bite was like digging our teeth into a cloud. The Alfredo sauce, though very thick and filling, had just the right consistency and an interesting blend of flavors due to its use of four cheeses - each just barely distinguishable. Short Order also dug into the Safi salad ($7.95) with baby arugula, parmesan, 400-day prosciutto di parma and fig with balsamic vinegar.

The dinner menu is decidedly Italian with reasonably priced staples like fettucine, penne, gnocchi and ravioli ($8.95-$12.95). The generous 8-oz. filet mignon runs just $18.95 and the 24 oz. T-bone ($39,95) satisfies the biggest appetite with a healthy checking account.Selections like paella ($18.50) with saffron tocs, mussels, black tiger shrimp, baby scallop and clams show off the Latin influence and Ahi tuna ($18.95) adds a dash of Japanese to the menu.

Upcoming events include a Christmas toy drive for Neat Stuff for Kids and Toys for Tots and an art show focusing on the female body. Keep checking safirestaurant.com for details.

Only time will tell if Safi will succeed where Mia failed, but it seems to demonstrate what may be the right ingredients -- hoping to engage the community with art shows, local musicians, 26 plasma TVs for movie screenings and reasonably priced thoughtful menu items.

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