Sunday, April 12, 2009

Le Banyan - North Beach

[Sorry, this place has closed]

The Ocean Terrace area of North Beach is like a little miniature version of South Beach's Ocean Drive. Running between 73rd and 76th Streets just east of Collins Avenue, there are a few charming little Art Deco hotels (along with a couple larger condo buildings) facing right out onto the ocean. Other than beachgoers, however, there are generally not an awful lot of people around here. Despite that, another brave restaurateur* is attempting to have a go of it here - Le Banyan, a Thai restaurant in a lovely location on the corner of Ocean Terrace and 73rd Street.

There's seating inside in the classic Art Deco lobby, as well as nice rattan tables and lounge-y chairs outside where you can dine under umbrellas. We were there early on a Saturday evening and the weather was perfect for sitting outdoors. The menu is a somewhat abbreviated grab-bag of Thai dishes - appetizers include crab and vegetable variations on spring rolls, chicken satay, shrimp dumplings, spicy shrimp salad, along with a few other items, and about 10 choices of entrees along with a number of rice and noodle dishes.

It was just me, Frod Jr. and Little Miss F, and happily (for reasons I'll explain further below) they had a "children's menu" for $15 which included vegetable spring rolls, chicken satay, pan-fried noodles with vegetables, and either ice cream or banana spring rolls for dessert. Done and done (though Frod Jr. needed some convincing that he should stick with the kids' menu, as he eyed the steamed salmon wrapped in banana leaf). We asked if we could substitute one of the other desserts for the kids and pay the difference (I believe it was a coconut panna cotta with water chestnuts that intrigued Little Miss F) and after much consultation we got a vaguely positive response. I had the spicy shrimp salad to start, followed by a steamed fish with lime and chile.

The spicy shrimp salad was very brightly flavored though not particularly spicy - lemongrass playing the most prominent role, along with fresh mint, cilantro, toasted rice powder and chile, in roughly that order, and served on a few leaves of tender Boston lettuce. While very tasty, this was a skimpy portion that even Michelle Bernstein would have been ashamed to serve for $12. The fish was a very nice presentation, a snapper done skin-on and tail intact, with a very interesting fileting technique. It was completely deboned but both filets were still attached to the tail, with one stretched out across the plate and the other wrapped in a spiral around a stalk of lemongrass. It was served in another boldly flavored sauce tart with lime juice and enlivened with a hint of fresh chile. The kids both liked their kids' plates - I wasn't even offered a bite of their spring rolls, but got to try the satay which was more assertively flavored than many I've had locally (bright with yellow turmeric).

When dessert time came around we learned they were out of the item Little Miss F had wanted, and she got a "chocolate nem" instead, which turned out to be little chocolate-filled spring rolls with dabs of condensed milk with chopped peanuts for dipping, along with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Frod Jr. was very happy with the banana spring rolls on the menu, which were crispy outside, gooey and sweet inside, and served over some melted chocolate for dipping. Instead of substituting, they brought out an extra kids' dessert so I got some banana spring rolls too. This gesture turned out to be less generous than it appeared when instead of just charging a markup for Little Miss F's substitution (which was maybe $2-3 difference), they simply charged us full freight for the extra dessert (which was about $11).

While the food was all pretty good, the prices were completely out of whack. Appetizers were in the $10-12 range that can be had for $5-8 at places like Tamarind Thai or Siam Bayshore around the corner. Entrees were mostly in the $25-35 range, which is just absurd for Thai food. Again, this compares to prices around $13-20 at either of the other neighborhood places I usually frequent. Desserts which go for $5 at the other places are $9-12 at Le Banyan. It's a nice view, but it can't justify those kind of markups, especially when I can't say that the food is markedly better than the other options.

Which is a shame, because if the prices weren't so exorbitant, this would be a really pleasant place to spend an evening. But just because Ocean Terrace looks like South Beach doesn't mean the prices ought to.

Le Banyan
7300 Ocean Terrace
Miami Beach, FL 33141
Le Banyan on Urbanspoon

*The last one that I recall was Baraboo, a circus-themed place, more than five years ago.

1 comment:

  1. I have a condo in this building and I have watched 3 restaurants try here. Each have been good food, The last...Piorioli was an absolutely fantastic Italian food. As far as the Thai place goes, I feel it's a shame because I would love for them to make it but they will not....the prices are silly. I am one to have no problem paying more for great food but the food is fair and the prices are at least double out of line. Sad because the area is fantastic at they could have made it better. It will be gone by December 31st.