Monday, March 7, 2011

A Delicious Find in Coconut Grove

It’s been many years since I took a ride down to Coconut Grove, a former “it” place in Miami that has lost a bit of its thunder to South Beach.  My main purpose for this trip was to check out the Mayfair Hotel and, more specifically, its Spartico Restaurant.

There were a  number of hiccups during my stay at The Mayfair and I hope to return soon for a more complete visit of this popular hotel, but everything went more than smoothly at its new restaurant, Spartico.  It’s not often I get to taste and hear about every aspect of a restaurant (with an acclaimed chef) so this experience was a real treat for me.

I started in Spartico at lunchtime with Jonathan Eismann, the hotel group’s consultant.  Chef Eismann is best known as the executive chef/owner of Pacific Time and is involved with a number of other restaurants in the Miami area.  Eismann is also one of the few chefs who has participated in all 10 South Beach Food and Wine Festivals.  This year I got to taste one of his great dishes at the Bubble Q event last week, the tender and tasty baby lamb chops. 

The vision of Jonathan Eismann for Spartico was to “do something somewhat revolutionary – a casual restaurant in the lobby of a four diamond hotel.”  Eismann consults on the menu, the recipes and the food orders (locally produced cheeses are a must here, as are high quality ingredients), and Chef Walter Dilibero makes sure everything is delivered in the quality that is expected in a restaurant of a hotel of this caliber.  The one thing that Spartico doesn’t have that you would associate with a restaurant in a top hotel is high prices. The menu is affordable to anyone, with pizzas and pastas in the $10-$15 range, and entrees just a few dollars more.

For lunch, we sampled the Wood Fired Roman Style Pizzas, which had a thin crust in the base, but enough flake in the top to satisfy this former New York pizza lover who loves to (as you should) hold pizza in hand. The sauce was not too sweet or spicy so it overpowered the fresh cheese.  The Margherita (with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Cheese & Mascarpone Cheese) was even better sprinkled with small bites of Apple-Smoked Bacon, for a little sweet and salty combination.  A four-cheese Margarita without tomato, which I’ve known as “white pizza” was also great, with enough cheese to satisfy, but not too much to be rich.  The pizza size was perfect for two to have for lunch, with drinks or as an appetizer to dinner.

I left the restaurant and checked out the view from the Rooftop Pool and Cabana Club, which has its own bar. It was a beautiful day and I wish I had some time to lounge on one of the pool side "beds" with a drink in hand, but I decided to window shop in Coconut Grove a bit before going back to my spacious suite. It wasn't long before I was back at Spartico with my daughter Sam to meet with Del Mendez, the Head Bartender for Mayfair Hotel & Spa.  Mendez’s job for the evening was to make me a drink in each of four categories – Pear Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Limoncello and Coconut Vodka.  He fulfilled his duties quite nicely!

Our first selection was a San Pera, made with the Grey Goose La Poire (Pear Vodka) and Germain Elderflower Liqueur, then topped with some Prosecco.  It was fruity and flavorful without being too sweet.  Next was the Mojito, mixed with Fresh Mint Leaves,Sugar, Lime Wedges, Bacardi Superior Rum and topped with Club Soda.  I’m not a big Mojito drinker because I am allergic to citrus, but Sam said it was the best she’s ever had.

The third drink was El Paradiso and it combined Grey Goose Vodka, Campari, Limoncello and Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice.  I  had to rely on Sam for this one too and she gave it the thumbs up as a good mixture of sweet and sour, leaving it a bit tangy.  The final drink was mine to thoroughly enjoy.  The Cocochino mixes Ciroc Coconut Vodka and Tia Maria with a touch of Half and Half.  It’s also got a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.  I loved the sweet and spice and it was nice to have a drink that was creamy, but not rich with heavy cream.

As soon as we finished the drink tasting, our table was ready with our first course, a Caprese Classic with Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Olive Oil and the Freshest Basil I’ve had in ages.  It was followed by two pasta dishes:  Harry’s Fettuccine Alfredo, which had Garden Peas, Italian Ham, Parmigiano Cheese &  just the right amount of Cream; and Spaghetti Bolognese  in a Marinara Sauce, which benefitted from the use of flavorful Ground Veal for a perfect mixture.

We took a little food break to enjoy our glasses of Sterling’s Sauvignon Blanc before the entrees arrived.  I am not a big steak eater, but the sliced Tuscan Grilled New York Sirloin had enough Roasted Garlic, Cracked Pepper and Fresh Herbs to draw me in. The Chicken Parmigiano was also full of fresh flavors and not filled too heavily with cheese.  Sam loved the Salmon, with enough butter to hold in the zest, but not too much that it was greasy.

After serving us the perfect meal, Chef Walter Dilibero finished with the perfect desert -- Warm Bittersweet Chocolate Bomb.  There couldn’t have been a better way to end my week of food and wine in Florida.

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