The tale of the frogs' legs begins as you'd expect, but then it takes an unexpected turn.
There they were, leaping through a mosquito-infested bog in the Everglades, when suddenly they resurfaced in a very different environment. Chefs at the Cypress Room, a posh Design District restaurant filled with fine china and crystal chandeliers, season and panfry the limbs. They meld the delicate results with capers, brioche croutons, arugula, and golden garlic and then splash it all with brown butter. These frogs' legs wind up on dainty porcelain plates.
But that's not where this yarn ends. Soft-spoken waiters deliver them to tables topped with white linens and silver cutlery. Surrounded by rose-colored wallpaper, middle-aged women blushing from too many diamonds and too much wine grab the legs, pick apart the flesh, and tear into it with their teeth. In this elegant dining room, they renounce shyness and let loose.
When eating such delectable food, that's exactly what you should do too.
In March, Michael Schwartz gutted this boxy nook on NE Second Avenue and festooned it with stuffed deer heads, Old Florida photos, and aqua-upholstered tufted benches. With that, the James Beard Award-winning chef secured his triumvirate of Design District restaurants: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, an ingredient-driven, laid-back dining room; Harry's Pizzeria, a casual place with handmade pies and house-cured meats; and the Cypress Room, a symbol of refined Americana. Inspired by 1920s fine dining, his newest venture is his most ambitious yet.
Schwartz's other restaurants span beyond this burgeoning fashion quarter, a neighborhood that has replaced Bal Harbour Shops as the premier luxury-shopping area in Miami. Following the debut of his flagship Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in 2007, the chef has unfurled a flurry of epicurean endeavors. His holdings are now also in South Beach (at the Raleigh Hotel) and overseas (in Grand Cayman and aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship).
Despite this scope, Schwartz owns restaurants that operate with principle. They support local growers and extol the freshness of all that Florida grows.
So when the chef announced the opening of the Cypress Room, the grown-up version of his relaxed, award-winning fare, he referred to it as the pinnacle of his values. Foragers would deliver only the finest supplies, and a like-minded crew would cook them. Schwartz hired Roel Alcudia, who previously worked as chef de cuisine at Barbuto -- a New York farm-to-table spot led by Jonathan Waxman, a man once dubbed "the Eric Clapton of chefs" -- and recruited Robert Montero, the Miami membership director of the United States Bartenders' Guild, to helm the bar.
Which explains why even the frogs' legs pair so well with a drink. At the Cypress Room, vest-clad bartenders shake and stir behind a vintage mahogany bar. They toy with barrel-aged varieties that employ ryes, gins, vermouths, and bitters. Montero mixes specialties, but he offers classics too. For instance, the Clover Club, a frothy pink potion served in a coupe glass, blends Plymouth gin and Dolin dry vermouth with raspberry preserves, lemon juice, and egg whites.
Both the bar and kitchen concentrate on the eyes as much as the stomach. Sip your rosy drink; then get another hit of scarlet with Alcudia's royal red shrimp. In an Arcimboldo-like arrangement, puffed rice, cucumber ribbons, and edible flowers are paired with Cape Canaveral crustaceans. Drenched in coconut milk and lime, the setup is stunning. It's also delicious.
Desserts are equally lovely. At Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, executive pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith prepares strawberry pop-tarts, popcorn ice cream, and beer sundaes with malted caramel. At the Cypress Room, she kicks off her Keds and steps into stilettos. "The chef recommends taking a bite of each component at a time," a boyish server explains during dessert. Instructions such as those have never been uttered about Goldsmith's panna cotta at Harry's Pizzeria. Now Goldsmith orchestrates a fancier feast.
Her hazelnut parfait layers crème fraîche and whipped cream with candied DuChilly hazelnuts, a variety grown exclusively in Oregon. Pickled cherries, puffed farro, dry salted caramel, and a gelée made from the pickling juice complete the dessert. In another sweet, she fuses rich dark chocolate with yuzu, ginger, coconut, and Thai basil. The plate tinkers with savory flavors -- and it does so successfully. A two-time James Beard Award finalist, Goldsmith proves she can excel beyond nostalgic treats.
It's not all so serious, though. The Cypress Room affords plenty of opportunities to play with your food. A blend of chuck beef and dry-aged trimmings, the Cypress burger soaks its bread roll and soils your fingers. Sure, it's messy. But go ahead. Dirty your hands. Reach for the crisp fries. The potatoes are boiled in water, poached in oil, and finished in hot grease. Approach the marrow bones in the same manner. Sop up the soft fat from the roasted cavities. Crown each bite with the fresh herbs and edible flowers on your plate.
Indeed, most things here are well-mannered: pan-seared black grouper atop blended bouillabaisse stock; antelope two ways, grilled and braised; rich onion soup with pullet egg and slivered toast. There's a $95 five-course tasting menu. And at the end of the meal, the check is delivered in an envelope. Petits fours, such as passionfruit-white chocolate or hazelnut macarons, ride alongside.
You are expected to be just as polite. The restaurant requires a credit card number for reservations. Cancellations without proper notice are charged a fee of $50 per person.
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Still, despite the genteel voices and shiny stemware, the best parts of dinner at the Cypress Room have little to do with formalities and petits fours. So eat the frogs' legs with your hands. Fight with your friend over the last bites of marrow bone. Grab more fries. A waiter will stop by your table shortly anyway. And he will deliver hot napkins
and lemon wedges to tame the grease.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.