Last night, my dining partner and I were invited to a chi-chi press dinner at the Villa Mayfair Restaurant & Lounge in Coconut Grove. So we got dolled up and arrived very hungry.
The restaurant (which turns into a lounge after hours) is stunning. Dim lighting, classy antique-like furniture, low-slung textured ceilings -- everything from the tiled floors to the hammered-brass bar is gorgeous. We arrived for a late dinner, around 9:30, and although the doorman had a little trouble finding us on his list, he was well-mannered.
We were seated comfortably away from the noisier area, but with a view of the entire venue. The place is small and intimate enough for a date yet comfortable enough for a large group of friends.
Our waiter, Kurt, was knowledgeable of the menu, and after a slight (albeit funny) miscommunication, we decided on the beef carpaccio with palm hearts and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($14) and Alaskan king crab "cannelloni" with yellow tomato concasse ($19) to start.
The carpaccio was scrumptious -- drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt, a few capers, raw palm hearts (surprisingly refreshing) and mouthwatering aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The cannelloni, on the other hand, was not as delightful (for nearly 20 bucks, it should be). The stuffed pasta rolls were drizzled with pesto, but we just weren't feeling the dish as a whole. The cold pasta just wasn't necessary. The dish would have been fine with all the other parts (the crab, the tomato concasse, the pesto, even the garnish of raw red cabbage and endive), but the pasta dumbed it down. We're not saying it was bad -- it wasn't. It just didn't need to be so complex. Simple dishes are often the most delectable.
Our entrées included sea bass à la plancha with artichoke barigoulde, topped with crisp pancetta ($42), and a 12-ounce, bone-in filet pan-fried with shallots and Bearnaise sauce ($48). Our first bite of the sea bass was quite fishy -- every bite after was decent, but not great, and that was disappointing. We later found out we weren't the only ones who weren't wowed by the fish.
The sizable piece of filet arrived nicely browned on the outside and perfect inside. The issue here was that, again, it just wasn't out of this world. It's a fantastic cut, perfect for any chef to use as a flavor canvas for culinary artwork. But I would compare last night's filet to an almost blank canvas -- it was no big deal. I dabbed petite spoonfuls of the Bearnaise sauce onto my bites, but the kickup was minimal.
I liked the appetizer and entrée menus. The desserts sounded equally delicious. We decided on the apple rhubarb crumble with passion fruit sorbet ($12) and the pineapple and mango gratin with sabayon ($12). The pineapple and mango gratin was great (phew!). We were so pleased that the flavors meshed well together. This one was definitely a winner.
As for the rhubarb crumble -- not so much. When I saw the word crumble, I expected at least a little pie crust or something of the like. None to be seen. What was very present was a layer of brown sugar atop the rhubarb apple compote. The dessert lacked a cohesive element. It was tart (which I enjoyed) and warm (also a plus) but needed something to bind it together. Did the pastry chef simply forget the crumble element, or was the brown sugar supposed to act in its place? Either way, this dessert could have been great if it hadn't lacked that key component.
After dinner, we met owner Timo Kipp and executive chef Frederic Joulin. I raved about the vibe and décor (because it's a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10), but when I was asked about the food, I simply assured that a little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. Joulin cringed at that comment, but as a Michelin-starred chef, he and his team will take the heat well.
And for the record, I'll give the Villa Mayfair another try. The menus have the right idea. Brush up the execution and I'd be a loyal patron.
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