Sunday, May 24, 2009

Eos - Downtown Miami

I may have come across as not so warm to Eos, the new restaurant in the Viceroy Hotel from the Michael Psilakis/Donatella Arpaia team. But, despite my mixed feelings about big hotel restaurants from out-of-town chefs, I was pretty excited by the preview menu I saw and was looking forward to trying it. We finally did so this weekend.

Actually, we started the evening at "Club 50," the lounge on the 50th floor of the Viceroy Hotel, which itself is just a small part of the Phillipe Starck designed Icon Brickell Tower development (the Viceroy's website actually says the club is for Icon members and hotel guests only - whoops!). The Kelly Wearstler-designed space is unique, combining 1930's era shapes with a 1970's era color palette (black and white marble floors, teal walls, lime green chairs) for a rather compelling Goldfinger-esque effect. There was a familiar face behind the bar - the former bartender from Sra. Martinez (and before that Michy's), whose name, I'm embarassed to admit, escapes me (my bar tab said "Freddy" but that doesn't sound right). I tried a "Viceroy Old Fashioned," a variation on the traditional drink made here with Ron Zacapa Centenario 23, a Guatemalan rum made with from a blend of 6 to 23 year old rums aged in former Bourbon, sherry and Pedro Ximenez barrels, along with a dash of simple syrup, bitters, and grapefruit and lime peels. It was a good drink, a little lighter on its feet than the traditional bourbon version. Mrs. F liked their take on a pisco sour.

The restaurant was somewhat challenging to locate. We went down to the 15th floor, and then had to pass through some unmarked black doors and around a hallway to find it (it may be easier if you go directly from another set of elevators from the hotel lobby). From the receptionist's desk, we wound around yet another hallway and eventually ended up in the restaurant, also done up in similar style by Kelly Wearstler with one wall of horseshoe banquettes and a few long rows of tables. By 8-9 o'clock the room was roughly half full (it's a pretty sizable space) and had a decent buzz without being terribly noisy.

The menu, created by New York wunderkind Michael Psilakis, is almost all small plates, priced mostly in a range of $10-15, which stay true to his reinvented contemporary Greek stylings. A good number of these are raw fish items with unusual pairings (many ambiguously labelled as "sushi/sashimi" - more on that below), supplemented by several vegetable items, and some cooked fish and meat dishes. There's also a short listing of larger fish and meat items which can be had as an entree or to split. Our waiter suggested ordering about 4 of the small dishes each for a meal or a couple and a larger item as an entree. We stuck with the small plates and had nairagi and salmon "sushi/sashimi", a botan ebi ceviche, a cheese plate, smoked octopus, lobster and uni risotto, and a spiedini sampler.

We weren't sure when we ordered the "sushi/sashimi" items whether this was intended as an "Option A and B" or a generic descriptor (we said "sushi" just to find out). After all, sushi really refers to rice (and more broadly to various items served atop rice), whereas sashimi is sliced raw fish sans rice. It turned out not to make a difference what we said, as each of these brought three strips of raw fish (no rice) bedecked with their unusual pairings. Chopsticks were brought out for eating these. The nairagi (a Hawaiian striped marlin, whose flesh has a whitish-pink hue) was very nice - fresh, a bit meaty and firm like a swordfish, and the pairing elements (pistachio, apricot and speck) worked nicely, the predominant one being the crisped-up speck.

The salmon, on the other hand, was an unmitigated disappointment - fishy and oversalted. I couldn't even tell you whether the unusual accompaniments of mastic (a resin derived from a Greek evergreen tree), rhubarb and pickled mushroom might have been successful, as the quality of the fish and overseasoning made it impossible to notice anything else.

The botan ebi (Japanese prawn) ceviche, spiked with cubes of papaya, was delicate and balanced, with the large dice of shrimp still tender, but not very exciting. The presentation, in a tubelike elongated glass bowl, was beautiful but did not completely distract from the fact that this was a rather parsimonious serving for $12.

The cheese plate which followed was decent but unexceptional. Three cheeses - a Cabrales blue, a Brunet (a nice creamy, oozy goat cheese), and one firmer cheese which I'm not now recalling - were plated with some membrillo, some macerated raisins, and pasteli (Greek sesame candy). This last was an unusual pairing, as its super-crunchy texture and tooth-sticking qualities didn't particularly seem a good match for the cheeses.

The smoked octopus came with a dice of pineapple and batonettes of sopressata, served over skordalia (a Greek garlic and walnut sauce). The octopus was tender and flavorful and the dish was an inspired combination. I am generally a sucker for the pairing of seafood and pork products, and this was a good one, with the pineapple and skordalia both providing nice complementary notes. I would have liked more of this - and indeed, the one skinny tentacle seemed a little dainty for the $13 price tag. For $4 more, the octopus dish at Michael's Genuine offers a serving nearly 2-3 times the size (given the difference in location, it would perhaps be unfair to point out that the great $9 grilled octopus app at Anise Taverna is also probably also about 3x the portion).

The lobster and sea urchin risotto which came next was the best thing we had all night. The waiter brought a rimmed plate, on which was a raw egg yolk, a couple "tongues" of uni, and a dollop of caviar. He made a little production of breaking up the egg yolk and uni with a spoon and then, from a small pot, dished over them a rich lobster risotto, mixing it all together at the table. The little production is not just for show, as it helped preserve the uni's delicate perfume and kept it from being completely overwhelmed and overcooked. This was a luxurious dish, with the egg yolk adding further richness to an already buttery risotto. The lobster - and there was quite a bit of it - was completely tender and perfectly cooked, also not an easy feat. At $16, this dish was a fantastic value, particularly compared to some of the other items we had (though Mrs. F still claims she can make a better risotto).

The spiedini "Mia Dona" brought pork involtini (stuffed with melting cheese), quail, sweetbreads, merguez sausage, and lamb tseftalia. The sausages were the real standouts here, both the spicy merguez and the more delicate but still robust tseftalia.

Despite my kvatching about value and portions on some of the items, we ended up eating a good amount of food for about $90 and did not leave hungry (though the desserts did not interest Mrs. F anyway). A couple other nice touches - some complimentary petit fours at the end of our meal (a little muffin-like cake, a coconut marshmallow, and a passionfruit jelly); and the valet parking is fully comped by the restaurant (one of the real drags of hotel dining is having to pay for parking). Service was friendly, our waiter was helpful in guiding us on how much to order, and they did a good job of grouping the courses to pace the meal appropriately. But there were some lapses. For instance, although we were sharing almost everything and the dishes were mostly presented as "small plates", we were never given any extra plates for sharing - even when the spiedini sampler was presented on a skinny wooden plank laid across the middle of the table.

One other real oddity is that there is basically no wine list to speak of. The menu lists about 5 each of whites and reds and a few bubblies, with prices by the glass and by the bottle. I asked for a wine list, and was told this was it. I'm all in favor of the "carefully selected" school of wine lists, but that's a little ridiculous. And, if I recall correctly, not a single Greek wine on the incredibly short list, despite tremendous improvements in the quality of Greek wines of late.

I appreciated the creative menu, I always enjoy the small dishes format, and some items - the nairagi, the smoked octopus, the lobster and uni risotto - were very good, but there were definitely some misses too. It was a place I wouldn't mind going back to, but don't know that I'd actively seek to return. Unfortunately, the overall experience did little to dissuade me of my concern that we are getting the "brand" but not the talent of the famous restaurants that are opening up satellite offices here in Miami. Michael Psilakis' Anthos is one of only two Michelin starred Greek restaurants in the world. Eos is not going to be the third.

Viceroy Hotel
485 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33131

Eos on Urbanspoon

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