You know Miami’s culinary cachet has reached sky-high levels when star chef Thomas Keller comes to town.
In case you’ve been living in Mars and don’t know who Keller is, here’s a quick recap. He’s a highly respected American-born chef who continually raises the bar with his culinary skills and traceable success: multi Michelin-starred (for The French Laundry ***, Per Se **, and Bouchon *), listed on The World’s 100 Best Restaurants list (#86 for The French Laundry and #81 for Per Se), designated the first American male chef named Chevalier to The French Legion of Honor (the highest decoration in France) and pinned by the late legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, to name just a few of his accolades.
His current restaurants, cafes, and bakeries spread out from coast to coast: New York City, Napa Valley, and Las Vegas. Miami now joins the list as the tenth. Surprisingly, although Keller is mostly known for his fine-dining approach, that’s not the case for every spot. His most casual eatery, Addendum, serves seasonal fried chicken that arrives placed inside an earth-friendly take-out container. The sides? Cornbread and potato salad. The seats? Outdoor picnic tables.
A couple of years ago when news first broke about this new project, he mentioned in a local interview he would not be bringing a fine-dining restaurant at the level of his other award-winning locations. That was then, this is now. I can assure you that the unmistakeable Thomas Keller finesse and signature style comes off loud and clear. The goal is “Continental cuisine interpreted for today’s contemporary guests.” And while the dining isn’t elevated as, say, The French Laundry, this is still fine dining: white tablecloths and all. A local chef de cuisine, the very talented Manuel Echeverri (formerly at Bazaar Mar), will lead this new venture. Fried chicken doesn’t make an appearance on the menu. Yet.
As you can guess by now, I finally had the opportunity to dine at the shiny and new Surf Club Restaurant, located inside The Surf Club in Surfside. Steps from the main entrance, to the right of the grand main foyer, the sandy-hued terrazzo flooring led me to the hostess stand. Once inside, I took a moment to appreciate the quaint space of yesteryear. Low ceilings cap off a wood-paneled wall of arched glass doors to one side. The remaining walls display tropical-themed trompe l’oeils. A mix of plush chairs and booths sat pretty under dimmed lighting coming off art-deco inspired fixtures and bouncing off mirrored glass accents on the walls. Center stage, a spectacular oversized arrangement of Acapulco pink lilies reigned atop a waiter station, right in the middle of the room. The playlist, a mix of Nancy Sinatra, Otis Redding, Beatles, The Eagles, Michael Jackson, and Billie Joel, kept me singing and swaying all night.
Dinner took off immediately. Watercolor flamingo-themed menus arrived along with delicate breadsticks and an iced bowl of crudité.
The very charming and knowledgeable Michel Couvreux (head sommelier at Per Se) stopped by to serve our wine and stayed for a bit to chat. He’s temporarily residing nearby, while he trains the current sommeliers who will take over after he departs. And we are in good hands Miami, Zach Gossard (formerly at Faena & Fontainebleau) will take the lead.
What I tried:
Everything. Impeccable execution. Where’s the room to grow? Did I mention I visited on their second day of service- which happened to also be the first day the restaurant flew solo sans Keller?
From the French Onion Dip + Kettle Chips I would not let anyone remove from the table (they must have inquired five different times), to the tableside-prepared Caesar Salad (with extra Parmesan, thank you very much), to the showstopper Warm Soft-Boiled Egg with Regiis Ova Ossetra Caviar, and the dreamboat Fettuccine Alfredo with black winter truffles, and also the lovely Snake River Farms New York Strip Steak, what a strong performance by this team.
Since, apparently, I cannot be trusted with a dessert menu, I over ordered. The, appropriately named, Coconut Chiffon Cake folded into my fork easily with silky elegance and sweet surrender. Sadly, I couldn’t finish most of the stunning K + M Nicaragua Dark Chocolate Layer Cake. The chocolate used stems from a collaboration between Keller and Armando Manni. Organic extra-virgin olive oil is used in place of cocoa butter, boosting antioxidant levels. And that’s why I ordered it, you know, to be healthy. The next day, I noticed the leftovers had been carefully packaged into a small box labeled “Midnight Snack.” Sweet touch.
Not really a miss, I promise I did enjoy the breadsticks and roll provided, but I’d love to
pretty please with a cherry on top see Per Se’s addictive buttery Parker House rolls make an appearance here. Miamians love their bread. Don’t let the bikini-clad, green-juice-carrying bunch fool you. Thinking out loud here, but wouldn’t they pair beautifully with the palm tree Vermont butter dish created for us? What say you, chef? Oui?
After dinner, I toured the kitchen. Is there an end to the Keller empire perfection? I noticed the similarities to the Per Se and French Laundry kitchens right away: organized, spotless, and a calm, graceful chaos happening despite the large numbers of cooks and staff present. Even the use of lime-green tape to methodically outline each space and the taped motivational quote-of-the-day was the same. The famed TV monitor connecting the New York City and Napa Valley kitchens is there too, although it wasn’t yet set up.
The Surf Club Restaurant brings classic dishes and stellar service to South Florida. It’s not a void that needed to be filled, but rather an addition to our growing collection of brilliant chef-driven concepts. Already sailing smoothly and only in its first week, the forecast looks promising. The real test will come after the initial fanfare subsides and Miami shows its true colors. You see, we tend to color outside the lines more often than not. Wishing this newcomer much success and stamina to take on the rising tide.
Welcome to the city where the heat is on…
The Surf Club Restaurant
9011 Collins Avenue
Surfside, FL 33154