Vegetable Tart at Pied a Terre

Of the Pied a Terre at The Cadet Hotel., 1701 James Street, South Beach (T.305-531-4533) I say “chapeau”, hats off. Its concept is unique, developed by Dr. Vilma Biaggi, owner of The Cadet Hotel, and Patrick Gruest. Gruest, born in Paris and raised in Lyon, spent his childhood from the age of six going to Paul Bocuse’s three star Michelin restaurant every two weeks with his parents .They invite a chef from a two or three star Michelin restaurant every four months. The visiting chef develops the menu based on local ingredients, working with the kitchen staff . Voila. The result is a menu that’s highly original but not the kind of precious cuisine you sometimes find in the starred restaurants. Here at Pied a Terre it’s about the finest quality ingredients, rich and complex flavors, high taste, and artful presentation.

The menu is two pages —  7 appetizers, 8 entrees and a separate dessert menu . I was pressed to choose, so tantalizing were the dishes. But first, the ambiance. The restaurant seats just 30 diners inside and another 40 in a serene outdoor garden with reflecting pool, surprising that it exists just a block from the “action” on Collins Avenue and 17th .  Indoors it’s intimate with soft lighting, stylish, and comfortable.  There’s soft music providing the background for the voices of different languages from its international clientele. Adding to the ambiance is the uber charmante Silvia from the Cote d’Azur.

Now more about the cuisine.  We started with an amuse bouche of blue crab soup which tasted like a very rich bisque. My companion had the terrine of foie gras made with a “Coteaux du Layon”, which he dubbed “fabulosity” . I opted for the vegetable tart pictured here, what the Wall Street Journal just described as “La Nouvelle Veg“, high vegetarian cuisine. Think parmigian infused thin pastry tart filled with a medley of mixed greens as well as asparagus, haricots verts, green peas, tarragon sour cream and a dollop of green pea sorbet, all surrounded by plump beads of olive oil caviar. The combination of flavors, a culinary symphony, was sublime. We also tried the quinoa salad served in an avocado dome, a perfect choice for vegetarians. Our choice for main courses were the excellent roasted Rohan duck with its leg confit accompanied by croquette, wild mushrooms and lavender scented jus. I chose the rack of lamb which was vacuum packed with herbs for 24 hours before cooking, meltingly tender and flavorful,  and of a quality one seldom finds. It came with baby bok choy, mashed potatoes scented with fresh mint and lamb jus reduction. Other choices I would have liked to have tried were the lobster in Asian flavors, halibut poached at low temperature and Chilean seabass inspired by Peruvian cuisine.  Patrick suggested wines to accompany each course along the way, unconventional choices from a white wine selection from Greece to Lebanese and Austrian selections.

Of course I had to have le dessert and thank goodness I did – oversize chocolate macaron made with Valrhona chocolate that came with chocolate ice cream, another version of Valrhona, giving it the rich, deep  flavor (wish they would have sold the macarons). We also tried the deconstructed vacherin – vanilla ice cream, strawberry sorbet, meringue, fresh coulis of red fruits and berries. Pure heaven.

Appetizers run from $15 to $23 and entrees from $30 to $48, reasonable, considering the quality of the restaurant. Oh, and I almost forgot the Echire butter from Charentes, in a class of its own.

The current menu was developed by a chef from the Hotel K in Alsace. The next visiting chef will be from Provence. I’ve already made my reservation.

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