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The market-like open kitchen of the restaurant

Victorious Approach

by Jen Karetnick | Photography by Michael Pisarri | Miami magazine | October 27, 2014

“I love how gently you treat your food,” Vintro Kitchen’s restaurateur and food and lifestyle consultant Giorgio Bakatsias professed as he lay down a dish of creamy, lightly garlicky tzatziki, placing a warm arm around my shoulders and giving me a squeeze. I’d been slicing delicately into the heart of one of the two, ultrathick lamb chops a waiter had just presented to my table, carving a tiny triangle of perfectly grilled meat that dripped juice like a ripe mango. Also like a sunset-hued, tropical fruit, the lamb ranged from its crisp edge to pink to a gorgeous rose center. The lovely medium-rareness made it clear how many times Bakatsias has seared off double-cut chops in his career.

It was all too easy to respond to the cherubic chef, one of the most appealing, humble professionals I’ve met in a long time. Under the brand Giorgio’s Hospitality & Lifestyle Group, Bakatsias has owned more than 30 restaurants nationally, but concentrates most of his empire in North Carolina.

“I love how gently you prepare your food,” I told him. And it’s true. Bakatsias has the touch, a natural respect infused by his culture, for freshly sourced ingredients that seem to wait only mere minutes before being served to customers. Although he’s only in town occasionally, he and his stellar executive chef, Keith Suarino, who he leaves in charge of this trending Mediterranean restaurant, had already formed fast friendships with South Florida’s artisans and farmers by the time Vintro—a portmanteau of the words “vintage” and “retro”—made its debut on the cleaned-up Collins Canal some weeks back.

These relationships are evident in appetizers that exude southern Mediterranean simplicity, such as the local burrata with heirloom tomatoes. Sure, this dish is done everywhere these days, but what makes it outstanding here is the quality of both the cheese (firm outside and loose, succulent curds inside) paired with an acidic, robustly fleshed assortment of Homestead’s finest black zebra and ugli tomatoes. A smattering of toasted pine nuts adds some spirited texture, working especially well after the burrata is cut open and the interior blends with the fluidity of the tomatoes. A dash of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, a crumble of sea salt and a curl of basil, lending its aroma to everything it touched, are also just enough to elevate the dish to truly desirable, despite how many times you’ve had it elsewhere.

Similarly, Greek seasonal vegetables—young carrots, green beans, zucchini and the like—resonate with earthy character. They’re underscored by lemon-scented yogurt and morsels of just-salty feta cheese, blending together to serve as a dressing of sorts. In fact, both this dish and the burrata are listed as two out of the three available salads, which makes sense given the amount of vegetables both contain.

That said, the menu at Vintro, a narrow, European-style hall of a space with an antique Cuban tile floor and an assortment of retro, vintage and whimsical art and fixtures dropping from the 30-foot ceiling and lining the walls, isn’t large. The category of Butcher’s Cuts, under which patrons can find the aforementioned lamb, offers only three dishes, including a whole roasted chicken flavored with the zest of orange and rosemary imbued into its skin, and the always crowd-pleasing steak frites. Other groupings, like Hot Off the Plancha, comprise as many as five. Of these, caramelized sea scallops nestled into zingy harissa and garnished with speck are perhaps the most noteworthy, with the scallops uncommonly toothsome. Jumbo-shrimp lovers may choose to argue with me, however, for these are also some prime specimens that are prepared equally as expertly, stroked tenderly with rosemary and garlic, and snuggled into a smoked tomato sauce.

Elsewhere, the menu is divided under headings such as Barely Touched and Flavor that may make it difficult to determine what these plates may actually hold. Servers are knowledgeable, however, and it’s fairly easy to navigate if you consider the left side of the menu, where you’ll find such items as pepper-crusted tuna in a deliciously cooling cucumber gazpacho, as starters. The left is where you’ll also come across a charcuterie board, a cheese board, the daily ceviche and the daily crudo, which, on one occasion was a glass filled first with avocado creme, then beef tartare, then served with a raw quail’s egg on top for the diner to mix in as desired.

On the right side, in addition to the Plancha plates and the Butcher’s Cuts, you’ll be directed to look to the blackboard for the daily selection of fish. Whole Florida red snapper, roasted in salt with herbs and lemon, a signature Vintro dish, is a frequent visitor there, and I’ve yet to see it venture out to a table without it going back to the kitchen completely stripped of flesh, as if feral cats, instead of South Beach socialites, had consumed it.

A surprisingly reasonable wine list, chosen from a range of internationals terroirs, covers all the bases and like the menu, is divided into descriptive assemblages: Sparkle, Crisp, Body, Sweet, Bouquet Earthy and Savor. For the non-oenophile, this might prove a little confusing, just as the food menu may be something of a challenge for the unlearned epicure. Likewise, a dessert of chocolate mousse with olive oil and sea salt could seem off-putting at first glance, but it’s in fact outstanding. If confused, all you need to do is ask—then, consume.

VINTRO KITCHEN
Vintro Hotel, 2216 Park Ave., Miami Beach, 305.704.3680

Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Sun.-Wed., 7AM-11PM.; breakfast, lunch and dinner: Thu.-Sat., 7AM-midnight

Barely Touched dishes, $5-$18; Flavor dishes, $8-$22; salads, $9-$15; Hot Off La Plancha dishes, $14-$18; Butcher’s Cuts, $26-$32; vegetables, $6-$8; desserts, $8-$9

Creative Corner
Curated by Zoel Zupstar, the hotel’s pop-up gallery is home to more than 50 works by emerging, established, local and international artists—and all of it is for sale.

Renovation Respect
The Vintro Hotel, where the restaurant is located, was originally the Park Avenue Hotel, and Guillermo de Yavorsky, the St. Barths-based architect and designer, preserved the art deco facade that dates back to 1934.

Cocktail Culture
Inspired by the 1950s, the Lobby Bar Lounge screams Old Hollywood with tufted sofas, handcrafted woodwork, and both classic and signature cocktails.