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Steamed red snapper with peanuts and kaffir-curry sauce; photography by Michael Pisarri

Co-star Quality

by Jen Karetnick | Miami magazine | January 27, 2012

When a high-end hotel like the W South Beach touts a celebrity anchor restaurant, such as Mr. Chow, that draws socialites to it as if the check came with a free Gucci gift bag, any other epicurean location in the establishment is bound to be overlooked—even if it came first. And that’s exactly what happened to Soleá.

Sure, back in 2009 Soleá had the requisite splashy opening as the inaugural eatery to debut in the W. But after several months of bearing the Mediterranean dishes of chefs-about-town Michael Gilligan and Arthur Artiles (of Atrio and Brosia, respectively), the place was rebooted to offer eclectic and classic Spanish seafood, as well as a hot young chef, Marc Vidal, who was lured from Por Fin to cook it. Still, outfitted with slabs of communal wood tables, boxy wine storage and brown leather chairs, Soleá never managed to emerge from the shadow of the mighty Chow.

Revving up for the third pitch after Vidal absconded to New York and Boqueria, operators KNR Food Concepts took a page from the Las Vegas playbook, where world-renowned, name-brand chefs open up competitive businesses within spaghetti lengths of each other. Instead of going for a low-key, second-chair player, they copped New York City’s perennial culinary boychick, Andrew Carmellini, who earned his rep by winning a pair of James Beard Awards at Café Boulud. Known for crossing the Atlantic on years-long training missions to Italy, France and England, Carmellini had been exclusively devoted to Manhattan, where he was executive chef at the Michelin-star-winning A Voce and currently runs Locanda Verde in Robert DeNiro’s Greenwich Hotel, as well as the original Dutch in SoHo. He hasn’t even opened a restaurant in his native state of Ohio (although Miami, where his grandparents resided in Little River, was a second home). When KNR scored the second installment of The Dutch, they essentially put Mr. Wong on notice: We’ll see you those perfectly groomed patrons… and raise you some foodies.

Indeed, the Soleá space didn’t just get a makeover, but a complete facelift. The only elements that seem to remain are the ceilings, high and regal as ever, and the gargantuan sliding doors that separate the interior from the Grove, otherwise known as the terrace. Now the color scheme is dovelike, comprised largely with peace and pleasantries in mind: white-washed brick walls, weathered wood beams, natural oak floors, butcher-top tables and gray marble-and-zinc countertops. Where clumsy wine columns once brooded, open bookcases are now stuffed with knickknacks ranging from framed old Florida photos to collections of polished glassware.

The collective vibe might feel a bit too casual for the menu prices—steaks can cost up to $95, albeit for a 40-ounce rib-eye for two—if the wait staff wasn’t so prompt and attentive. One evening, a small group of servers accidentally blocking my path parted like a biblical sea with murmured apologies from each and every waiter. Needless to say, you need never ask for a water refill.

Whether you want to imbibe the flavorless stuff is up to you. I’m partial to The Essential, a cocktail infused with freshly squeezed cantaloupe, rum, Violette elixir and lemon. Whiskey fans rave about the small-batch, single-barrel and reserve selections, which include Hirsch bourbons and rye that’s been aged for 16 to 25 years. The harder, long-aged quaffs pair especially well with Carmellini’s slow-cooked short ribs, intensely flavored, fall-apart hunks of meat that reflect his French training—and are ideal for the cooler, winter nights in South Florida.

The menu changes frequently, so if you’re lucky, the short ribs will be paired with mashed potatoes so light and airy they are more like foam. But if you don’t feel like making the ribs a whole meal, opt for an order of the Asian White Boy Ribs. This St. Louis specialty, glistening with hoisin and tasting of five-spice, with tenderness just like the short ribs, offers a good deal more meat for the money. The Little Oyster Sandwich is another snack that can be ordered solo and an excellent option for the diner in the party who dislikes raw oysters, which are also available by the piece. Rubbed in cornmeal and fried, the oyster is served on a mini brioche speckled with sesame seeds and lightly dressed with a pickled okra sauce, a crunchy variation of tartar.

Famished customers would also be advised to order the always-moist, marinated, roasted half chicken, garnished with a savory tomato foam, or the spice-glazed pork chop, partnered with mustard greens and roasted apple, without reservation. If you’re not inclined to even use a knife, opt for the pappardelle with lamb ragu and sheep’s milk ricotta. Here, you can test Carmellini’s pasta-making skills (superior) as well as his braising technique (excellent) in one masterful dish.

The fish dishes, such as the vibrantly flavored steamed red snapper with peanuts and kaffir-curry sauce, tend to run on a smaller scale, which is a blessing given their richness. I found it impossible to finish the Maine sea scallops with heirloom cauliflower and a creamy yuzu sauce despite their seared perfection, simply because the mouth feel was that satiating. Or maybe it was because I’d already downed the peel ’n’ eat shrimp rémoulade, which is actually five, jumbo, head-on prawns coated with spices—not for the squeamish nor delicately dressed—plus a serving of truffled steak tartar topped with a fried quail’s egg. This is the kind of menu, though tidy, that I find hard to resist. While nothing is so ordinary I could just as easily cook it myself, no dish is absolutely outlandish, either.

The same goes for desserts, which is frankly a relief: No chocolate-covered bacon here, but instead, irresistible dulce de leche donuts. Plus there’s always the pie of the day, such as raspberry or blueberry, where the fruit is coddled outside the shell instead of baked into a jelly for an hour inside the oven. The result is whole, plump berries, just cooked through and warm, in a crumb-top crust that tastes like Northeastern summers.

Given the hail-fellow-well-met quality of both its fare and its service, The Dutch debuted at a level that is deceptively workaday, but actually takes real work. The challenge will be in maintaining that casual sophistication. But at least, by setting the standard where it did, The Dutch has shown Mr. Chow—and the rest of us—that the W South Beach is big enough for the both of ‘em.

The Dutch
****
W South Beach Hotel & Residences, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305.938.3111, thedutchmiami.com

Price Range
Oysters, $3-$125; snacks and appetizers, $5-$18; main courses and steaks, $19-$95; side dishes, $7; desserts, $8-$10

Where do I park?
There’s valet for $20, but there’s also a self-park lot in front of the hotel. Get there early enough, even on weekends, and you’ll cut parking costs by almost 70 percent.

Any vegetarian options?
There’s always the trofie pasta with pesto, peppers and pine nuts. And, as the waiters say, it’s easy to “subtract” ingredients, like bacon, from a dish of Brussels sprouts.

Can we party on the premises after dinner?
Absolutely! And you should. The Dutch is connected to the W’s Living Room, staffed by Bar Lab, which serves some of the most innovative cocktails in the biz. And, for those brave enough to face its tyrannical doormen, there’s always Wall.