A Not Entirely Welcoming Habitat

I love Miami Beach in the winter – the vibe…the energy…obviously the warm weather…and, of course, the restaurant scene; there’s always someplace new to try.

The constant stream of openings, however, represents part of the problem with Miami: No sooner do you fall in love with a place than it closes and gets replaced with a new one.

That’s the case at a restaurant Joanne and I recently visited at the swank 1 Hotel South Beach, which opened a couple of years ago in the heart of South Beach at 23rd and Collins Avenue.

Their flagship restaurant, BEACHCRAFT, created by world renowned restauranteur and James Beard award winner Tom Colicchio, created a buzzy vibe throughout the area. Joanne and I, of course, needed to try it out. Not only was it a good-looking place in an ultra-chic hotel, but we really enjoyed it. The fare was rather simple and straightforward with just enough twists and turns to make every dish engaging.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment last week when we learned that it had folded and had been replaced by HABITAT, led by Jose Mendin and Angel Palacois of the highly successful Miami-based PUBBELLY GROUP. The geometry of the dining room has not changed, so if there are two of you, be sure to request the corner table, #72.

Now, HABITAT is nice. Although it didn’t seem that very much was done to change the interior décor (what I call “washing the cat and putting up new fly paper”), the menu was different – sort of MODERN SPANISH, with an emphasis on fresh seafood, much of it prepared in their wood-fired oven.

Due to economic headwinds largely imposed by city and state governments, it seems that the whole restaurant world has begun charging for bread. And HABITAT was no exception. The difference is that they offer CATALAN TOMATO BREAD – and charge $14 for it!!!

I liked the Kale Tempura with Kimchi Mayo as an appetizer, also $14.

Check out the image of the Margarita Flatbread – loaded, and I mean LOADED, with fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. It’s really good, and fairly priced at $14.

Ceviches, oysters and sea urchin form a seafood core of the appetizers, while Paté de Compagne ($22), Salt-Cured Foie Gras with Tomato Chutney, and Bone Marrow Stuffed with Steak Tartare (and crowned with a quail egg), at $21, will satisfy any carnivores in your party.

A starter of Iberico and Serrano Ham ran about $40 for a table -size platter, but was worth it. These hams – which come from pigs that eat acorns and other healthy forageables – rival the best Prosciutto di Parma from Italy. If you’re looking for drama, go for the Lionfish ($34, pictured below). It’s a predatory species, so you’ll feel like you’re doing your part for the environment by eating it. Plus, it’s accompanied by chicharonnes (delicious, crunchy deep fried pork skin), so how can you go wrong? And if its comfort food that you have in mind, the Black Angus New York Strip ($42) will do just fine.

For dessert, we had the Barba-Papa. I had absolutely no idea what that was, but it’s a sort of spun sugar/cotton candy pear-shaped confection accompanied by fresh ginger, pineapple and coconut. Apparently the name refers to the shape of the dessert as well as a French cartoon character.

I have included the image of the Dessert Cheese Plate from the previous restaurant, Beachcraft, as it was one of the better that I’ve ever had. I wish it were on the menu at Habitat.

Some other things that I wish…

I wish never, ever again to be told by my server that “the food comes out when it’s ready.” That’s what Habitat does. I HATE THAT. So when I’m in a party of 4 or 6 and my hamburger arrives before everyone else’s food, do I sit there politely as its juices congeal? Or should I be an impolite ass and start gorping down my burger while the other guests twiddle their thumbs?

I also wish Habitat would come to their senses about wine. While the food is good – really good – the wine list must have been put together by a “wine nut” who reads every page of Wine Spectator and doesn’t give a damn about wine purchasers. The offerings here are CRAZY NUTS EXPENSIVE.

I did a “back of the napkin” calculation and said to our server, “I can’t afford to dine here.” The French whites averaged $226 a bottle – with the lowest priced offering at $72 and the highest priced wine at $565.

The U.S. Cabs averaged $115 a bottle, and the least expensive Pinot Noir was $90 (for a section average of $225).

Adding insult to financial injury, our server couldn’t answer the simplest questions about the offerings. My every query sent her running to the manager. So….was I given the Captain’s Wine List by mistake? When I asked that question, she just stared at me like a goat.

I hope I WAS looking at the Captain’s List. I’d like for this place to succeed, but in my opinion they won’t stand a chance unless they include some approachable and affordable “safe harbor” wines. We ordered the cheapest one on the menu: an Italian Rosé for $57. It tasted liked pink water.



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