There’s a lot of boasting these days about being farm-to-table, buying locally and through specialized purveyors. I tend to think it’s often just talk. One restaurant, Essensia Miami, has always been true to that mission, even having a garden steps from the restaurant’s terrace where they grow their own herbs, eggplant and even shishito peppers. And now they have a new chef, Ilde Ferrer, who brings his varied and impressive background at Le Bernardin, French cuisine and seafood; the Setai, Asian; Union Square Café, American; and Ortanique, Caribbean, to the table. The result is dishes that are creative, while bringing out the flavors of the ingredients. And two of the dishes are earmarked for my roundup of Best of the Year.
The menu is divided into small plates & salads, soups, ocean, field and farm. Starters and small plates feature crowd pleasers, from ceviche and steak tartare to watermelon and feta and kale Caesar. Whatever you do try the crispy shishito peppers and the spiny lobster bisque. The former are lightly battered with potato flour, much lighter than a usual tempura batter, and are perfectly fried , plump and addictive.
The bisque was more like a soup, happily less rich than the usual creamy version and tastier. Made with Florida spiny lobster, tarragon and Spanish sherry, it also had a hint of picante (spice) and coconut. I could have made a meal of those two.
The mint ricotta gnocchi alla primavera caught my eye as a first course. Made without potatoes, the main ingredient was the ricotta cheese along with asparagus, baby carrots and tomato. For mains we had the duck confit lacquered with a hoisin demi-glace, crispy and moist. It was accompanied by sautéed spinach, duck fat potatoes, and a clever and delicious topping of crispy leeks (the chef’s favorite flourish). My dinner companion opted for the pan seared Florida snapper.
The chef’s Asian experience showed through here with the fish’s accompaniments of pineapple fried rice with sweet Chinese sausage and grilled Gulf shrimp, thai basil, and garden herbs. The pineapple fried rice is also available as a side dish.
The menu is well curated, with a selection of dishes that are gluten free, dairy free, lactose free, vegetarian and Vegan. Had we been able to eat more, we would have also opted for the West Indies vegetable plate with basmati rice, fig glazed eggplant, curried chick peas, grilled fennel, pickled shishito peppers and cilantro mint sauce.
The dessert to get is a welcome riff on a key lime tart – also made with passion fruit.
Small plates and salads average in the mid-teens; most entrees in the 20’s with the exception of steaks, lobster and the snapper. For the month of July they’re offering three course pre-MiamiSpice menus for brunch ($23), lunch ($23) and dinner $39) with several of the dishes I highlighted in the selections. Essensia has indoor and outdoor seating. Be sure to request a table outside on the terrace overlooking the lush gardens. They have ceiling fans so on most summer nights it’s not too warm.
A glass of wine (5 ounce pour) starts at $12; bottles at $40. They have some fun cocktails— loved the names like Hot & Bothered Margarita with Casa Noble Organic Tequila, blood orange liqueur, guava juice, sriracha and fresh pressed lime juice; Lazy in the Shade with Koval Organic Whiskey, vermouth, tarragon syrup, fennel bitters and fresh pressed lemon juice; and Our Little Secret with Farmer’s Organic Gin, refresher juice, elderflower liqueur, apple and mint.) that average $14 to $16.
Valet parking is offered. When validated it’s $12.
Essensia in The Palms Hotel, 3025 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. For reservations, call 305-908-5458.