Walk past the Hotel Nash on Washington Avenue in South Beach and you just might miss it. Just inside the lobby and down the stairs is one of the hottest dinning rooms in Miami, even after nine years. Mark Militello's original restaurant was in North Miami, but the SoBe location was irresistible. Too bad the place is hidden away. The whole world ought to know about the clever and creative cooking here.
The dining room is beautiful, but a bit dark. Perhaps it's the feeling of dropping down the rabbit hole you get as you descend the stairs from the lobby. In any event, the tables to ask for are the ones right by the windows, so you will at least have some light. If the weather is cooperative, there's a seductive little terrace too.
The menu does change frequently, so you may well find it completely different from what I shall describe below. The dinner menu is also far more extensive (and expensive too) than the lunch menu, a veritable bargain for the quality of cooking here. Mark Militello is no longer directly overseeing the kitchen himself, but chef Larry LaValley shows great promise.
We didn't actually have a first course, having indulged in a late continental breakfast at our hotel. Nonetheless, we might have tried the Organic Arugula with Roasted Sweet Peppers ($9.00) with caper berries and parmesan. The Warm Mozzarella wrapped in Prosciutto ($11.00) with grilled eggplant and tomato looked promising too. Only the salad of baby Lettuce, Frisee and Pear ($9.00) with spiced pecans and gorgonzola dressing seemed more prosaic.
Instead, we plowed on to the main course, stopping only to indulge in the wonderful bread basket. This bread was so good that we had to ask for another basket of the fresh, hot rolls.
The Doc had the Baby Artichoke and Roasted Tomato Frittata ($12.00) with fines herbs and parmesan cheese. The frittata was much larger than I expected. My fork strayed over to her plate to try a couple of bites after she had given up. Not that it was bad at all, she was merely saving room for dessert.
I was captivated by the Pan Roast of Littleneck Clams ($14.00). A deep white bowl of steamy broth held about thirty tiny clams with chorizo, and pimento. This heady broth was liberally laced with white wine and garlic. I did let the Doc try a few, but I really wanted to hunker down and keep the clams all to myself, so tender and succulent they were. Even though this sounds like a simple dish one might have at a New England clambake, the execution was careful and the seasoning balanced. Mark Militello doesn't throw his seasonings in with a trowel, but carefully layers them for full effect.
The Black Grouper with Baby Artichoke Potato Hash ($18.00) is served with a blue crab remoulade and sweet herb broth. While reminiscent of dishes on the menu at Mark's on Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, this looked slightly different. We will have to return some time to give it a try.
Last, and likely least, was the Grilled Filet Mignon Burger ($14.00) served on roasted garlic focaccia and topped with portobello mushrooms. I did see one of these pass by, and it looked as though it wasn't just another hamburger. Leave it to Mark to tweak the usual.
The dinner menu is extensive, and much more elaborate. Suffice to say that the care exercised in our simple lunch would indeed portend better things at dinner.
I had the tasting of "exotic" sorbets ($6.00), a selection of mango, passion fruit and blackberry sorbet. The last was undoubtedly my favorite, tasting as it did of a forest glade wet with dew. You could really taste the fruit here. The Doc, however, had the real winner here with the Bittersweet Liquid Molten Cake ($6.00). As the Doc said, this dessert was so good it should be illegal. The bittersweet chocolate cake was rich and velvety, its molten center oozing forth with forbidden goodness. The vanilla ice cream was even interesting. How does Mark manage to make vanilla ice cream interesting? Well, for starters it's made in the restaurant, not plucked from a freezer. The thing to remember here is that everything on the menu is executed with thought and originality.
We might have had excellent luck with the Creme Brulee of the day ($6.00 as well).
Though we didn't delve into this expensive territory, Mark's is well known for its celebrated cellars. Most bottles are over $50.00, but a few bargains may be found.
The restaurant was nearly deserted the day we had lunch, but a fashion show was in the works for later that afternoon. The Doc was feverishly trying to shield my eyes from the sylphs changing into feather boas in the hallway right in front of our eyes. Only in South Beach, I suppose.
As for the service, our waiter was quietly deferential, if a bit distant. It must have been a slow day in the kitchen, as it did take them a while to produce our lunch. Chalk it up to the individual care given to each dish.
This isn't a place to venture out for a quick, inexpensive lunch or dinner. Our lunch was nearly $60.00, without alcohol. Dinner will set you back at about $100.00 or more per person, with most main courses being $30.00-$42.00. I'd think it would be well worth the expenditure, for food like this doesn't come along every day, especially in tourist areas like South Beach.
We did not have a reservation, but lunch out of season is a time when tables all over town go begging. In season (November-May), you would do well to call ahead. At night, a reservation is essential. Valet parking is available, though street and hotel lot parking are also easily accessible. They take American Express Visa and Master Card. The dress code is officially casual, but I'd want to wear something appropriate in mere respect for the excellence of the food.
Open as follows:
Breakfast- Wed.-Sun.- 7:00 AM- 11:00 AM
Lunch daily- 12:00 PM- 3:00 PM
Dinner- Sun.-Th. 7:00 PM- 11:00 PM
Fri.-Sat- 7:00 PM- 12:00 AM
Brunch Sunday 11:00 AM- 3:00 PM
Mark's South Beach
in the Hotel Nash
1120 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139-4605
Tel. 305- 604-9050
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Kid Friendliness: No
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations Reservations advised at night--possibly not necessary at lunch
Best Suited For: Romantic Evening