Friday, July 30, 2010

Fin - Miami Design District

[Sorry, this place has closed]

I've come to realize that I am susceptible to the power of self-suggestion. When I was planning our upcoming trip to Spain, all I wanted to eat was Spanish food. We decided to take the kids to Maine next month, and all of a sudden I had hankerings for fresh, simple seafood. That's pretty much the mission statement of Fin, Chef Jonathan Eismann's latest restaurant to open in the Design District, which is where we ended up for dinner earlier this week. It was exactly what I was looking for.

We actually got something of a preview for Fin several months ago, when Chef Eismann used the space to host one of our Cobaya dinners back in December. It quietly opened for real about a month ago, occupying a small enclosed nook in the corner of Q American Barbecue on the west end of the Design District along Miami Avenue. Keeping track of Chef Eismann's restaurants has required a scorecard lately: through some wheeling and dealing with restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow, his flagship Pacific Time has now closed, and after the summer is to become El Scorpion (the Mexican restaurant Chodorow opened up on South Beach just south of 5th Street); and the El Scorpion space on South Beach is going to become a second Q American Barbecue. Meanwhile, PizzaVolante is still cranking out good pies across the street from the original Q, which is staying put in its Miami Avenue location (which is the old Sheba spot, for those with a memory that goes back more than a year or two).[1]

Though Q is right next door, Fin feels like a different world, done up like an idealized Cape Cod bungalow with wide wood planks on the floor, simple wood and white-washed furnishings, soft blue and white stripes up the walls. It's small and intimate, probably seating no more than about 25-35 people at full capacity.

The menu is small too, featuring a very abbreviated selection of mostly fish and seafood that apparently will be constantly rotating, depending on what Chef Eismann sources at any particular time. And I do mean short: maybe five appetizers, about the same number of entrées, all almost exclusively piscine, some vegetable sides to choose from, a few desserts.

Dinners start with a complimentary amuse, this time a small bowl of popcorn shrimp (for those who miss Pacific Time, you will be reminded of the hot and sour shrimp snack) with a spicy remoulade, along with a tall shot of a tomato-lobster gazpacho (nice, bright and balanced tomato flavor, though the lobster got lost in the mix). From there, I led off with a half-dozen oysters on the half-shell (Wellfleets? I forget), served simply with a wedge of lemon, some Tabasco, and a simple mignonette. These were some of the best oysters I've had locally, expertly shucked, fresh, briny and clean-tasting.

Mrs. F started with a corn chowder, which curiously did not include any seafood, but which was still loaded with flavor and precisely seasoned. Another carry-over for Pacific Time fans is a variation on the grouper cheeks with red curry and bananas, which here showed up on the Fin menu with shrimp.

(continued ...)

Entrée choices, as I recall, were Alaskan halibut, Pacific rockfish, Oregon ling cod, and one other fish (a striped bass?), with a token appearance of a BBQ brisket which wandered over from Q next door. I had the ling cod, which was pan-seared to a nice bronze on one side, and served in a butter sauce with diced apple and capers, along with some edamame mashed potatoes. The fish was beautifully fresh, the flesh striking a nice balance between substantial and tender. I was a bit dubious about the apple - caper combination but it actually worked wonderfully, the apple providing just a bare hint of sweetness to complement the fish, played against the salty tang of the capers. The light-green hued mash rounded things out well.

Mrs. F went with another of the apps for a main. The crab cake, served with "Joe's" mustard sauce, was packed with crab meat and very little filler, but still nicely crispy on the outside. And the mustard sauce was indeed a very good rendition of the original from local institution Joe's Stone Crab. Some roasted beets and parsnips drizzled with a bright green parsley oil (another carryover from the Pacific Time menu) completed the meal nicely.

Dessert choices are likewise short and sweet, and included a lemon tart, an apple crumble, and Chef Eismann's famous "chocolate bomb"[2] (which needs to be ordered 15 minutes in advance, but the waitstaff will ask you at the appropriate time), though we had no room.

Chef Eismann says that he's now spending a good bit of his time, when he's not running back and forth between his various projects, sourcing the best product he can find for Fin.[3] With the short menu and almost singular focus on seafood, the place does have the feel of a personal labor of love. It is also, unquestionably, "niche dining." It is clearly not the place to go if you're not in the mood for fish.[4] And even then, you won't find anything like the more encyclopedic list of options at someplace like Oceanaire.[5] But when you are in that mood for beautifully fresh fish, simply and expertly prepared, and are willing to exchange an abundance of choice for a carefully sourced selection fresh out of the waters, Fin fits the bill perfectly.

4029 N. Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33127

Fin on Urbanspoon

[1]I've been back to Pizzavolante many times since my initial visit and subsequent pizza crawl sampling, and continue to believe that they put out some of the best pies in Miami. I haven't really gotten a good handle on Q yet. The only time we went was during their opening week, and the combination of a packed dining room and a brand new restaurant did not provide ideal circumstances for evaluating it.
[2]In doing a little Googling on that chocolate bomb, I came across this excerpt which refers to "former-model-turned-chef" Jonathan Eismann. I'm definitely going to have to get to the bottom of that.
[3]I did find it a bit curious that there was no local fish whatsoever when we visited, but I'm sure that's something that varies from day to day.
[4]It is the perfect place, on the other hand, to take those friends of yours who invariably, no matter where they go, make a special request for a piece of fish, simply grilled, with some green vegetables on the side. We all have those friends. Unlike you, though, they'll just want to ask for the sauce on the side.
[5]Though with Oceanaire's acquisition by Landry's, and the departure of Chef Sean Bernal, it's unclear whether they're going to be doing the same kind of seafood sourcing they used to.

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