This week I had the pleasure of spending a few days inside the Fontainebleau which gave me the opportunity to sweep their “Imports” trifecta, and found a great Dim Sum place in Pembroke Pines.
Impressive is the word that first comes to mind to describe the vast array of well known, out-of-town Chefs, restaurateurs and restaurant Groups that have over the past few years graced Miami with their established presences. Daniel Boulud, Andrew Carmellini, Jose Andres, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Michael Mina, Scott Connant, Makoto Okuwa, Laurent Tourondel, Alfred Portale, Danny Meyer, Hung Huynh, Zuma and Hakkasan and the most notable “Imports”, most of which I have had the pleasure to try. These “Imports” are located almost in their entirety within large hotels, for what I’m assuming are strictly restaurant business industry reasons. Large hotels probably have the deep pockets to fund large-scale concepts, backed up by the default clientele from tourists and business visitors. The well established name from out of town provides the incentive for the locals to have in their own backyard food from star chefs otherwise hundreds of miles away.
Three of these imports are located within the largest, most opulent hotel in town, the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Scarpetta, Hakkasan and Gotham Steak offer the hotel’s visitors a wide arrange of culinary offerings to make sure no palate goes unfulfilled. I recently spent almost 3 days at the Fointainebleau for work reasons and it provided me the perfect opportunity to catch up with these three restaurants, two of which I hadn’t been before. Below are my impressions.
Scarpetta: My favorite of the three, Scott Connant’s second location out of a total of 4 opened in 2008 and has since been subject to great accolade. Easily one of the best Italian restaurants in town, a fail proof place where you can either go simple and have a really good pasta dish, of you can splurge and go for the Chef’s tasting menu. The bread basket includes a nice warm selection including ciabatta and an irresistible tasty salami filled roll. I had their signature “three ingredient” pasta which consists of spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil. Nothing more, nothing less, and a dish that quiet possibly has no competition in the three ingredient category (apart for Blue Collar’s Juicy Burger and Josh’s Deli’s Corned Beef on Rye of course). Worth the drive, the valet parking, the walk to the restaurant alone. Other pasta dishes also worked, lamb with minted bread crumbs, seafood Scialatelli, and overall a great level of service and ambiance. This is the best place to go eat inside the fortress that is the Fointainebleau in my opinion.
Hakkasan: Silver medal for me, only because I guess the older you get the less you appreciate restaurants that aim to be more like nightclubs than places of food worship. From the minute you get there you understand this place is not aimed at culinary enthusiasts, but rather at champagne popping night owls. The bar was crammed with young adults sipping martinis and discussing the next best way to burn cash. If this place doesn’t have a dress code, it should have no problem implementing one since everyone there seems to be under the impression there is one. The food, my main interest of course was good. No complaints, just plain and simple straight up commercial Asian flare perfectly executed and served as you would expect from such a successful institution (they have recently opened in New York and San Francisco). A crispy duck salad was particularly enjoyable and well seasoned, and the ribs were fall of the bone, sticky and sweet. Shrimp dishes were nicely paired with sesame and almond, and the crab and squid dishes, although a bit greasy, had great flavor. Given my recent discoveries of Silver Palace and China Pavillion (see below), I probably wouldn’t drive all the way to Miami Beach for my next Chinese fix. But if for any reason I need to throw a party in the near future, this place will definitely be at the top of my list.
Gotham Steak: I have been to Gotham in New York and it is, without a question, one of the great NYC classics when it comes to fine dining (it goes back 27 years). This younger sibling in the form of a steakhouse has the finesse on the menu from Mr. Portale, reflected in the delicate porcini ravioli and the spanish octopus with summer squash, orzo, chorizo, pimento aioli that started us off. Steak selection is ample, and is well balanced with seafood options for the non-carnivorous. My steak was perfectly cooked but slightly salty, and unfortunately my creamed spinach side seemed more like wilted spinach with just milk added. The difficult thing for Gotham Steak I guess is that is not only has it some tough competition “in house” from Scarpetta and Hakkasan, it also has some even tougher competition in the steakhouse category a few yards up the road with 1500 degrees at the Eden Rock, and a few miles South with places like blt and Red.
Overall some great options inside the Fontainebleau, people staying there can’t complain and could probably spend a good few days there without having to leave. Us locals are lucky to have such great “Imports” to choose from should one desire.
My recent hunger for great Chinese food landed me at China Pavillion Dim Sum restaurant in Pembroke Pines. How did I end up there? You may recall how I ended up at Silver Palace, by asking the only Chinese person in town I knew of course, and it was right there where, through a candid conversation with the Chinese family at the table next to us, that China Pavillion came up. Next thing I know we were driving up there on a Sunday at noon.
The place, as was Silver Palace, was packed with Chinese folk, a welcome sign. We were, once again, the only Westerners in the room. Ordering was guided thanks to a pen and pencil system supported by a very useful and very graphic guide of all the dim sum available. People always ask, did they have carts? Which I don’t see the point of, if the dim sum is great what difference does it make if it is rolled out on a cart or brought to you straight from the kitchen? I still don’t get it.
There are seventy one Dim Sum options on the menu between, puffs, dumplings, rolls, pastes, noodles and puddings.
The few options I went for where more on the safe side, shrimp dumplings, pork buns, deep fried shrimp, and some incredible sweet, fluffy “puffs” filled with sweet and sour pork that were my favorites. The shrimp had great flavor, palatable from the soft dumplings. One needs to go here and have the pork buns to understand why the newer Miami Asian restaurants attempting to do pork buns are so criticized. All the fillings where delicious, pork, duck, shrimp.
There are plenty of options for the more adventurous, as are the well know chicken feet. I may dive further into the deep end on my next visit which will be very soon. I loved this place. I had read many people’s comments on social media sites about how dreadful the service was but my ladies were great. Maybe I got lucky. Well worth the drive and I hope one of the local dim sum experts (are you reading this Ed?) makes the trip there soon so I can be proven wrong.
See you next week