I rarely refuse an invitation to someone’s house for dinner, and at the quaint Jean Paul’s House, you really do get the intimate feel of being in someone’s dining room.
The modest 1922 cottage on Northeast Second Avenue was once owned by the Coals family, prominent Miamians of their era, and it retains its homey feel. The wraparound porch makes a great spot for dinner under the stars.
Inside, the dining room is flooded with natural light by day and warmed with golden, low-watt hanging lamps in the evening. It’s decorated with an elegant summerhouse ease. Long wooden tables, sleek black and white wallpaper and lots of shimmery mirrors lend a glamorous edge.
And the namesake chef, Jean Paul Desmaison, a talented Peruvian who opened La Cofradia in 2005 in Coral Gables, is very much the host.
At night he puts out a complimentary amuse. Ours was a delightfully pungent tiny crostini dotted with blue cheese and a sweet balsamic reduction.
As you would expect from a Lima homeboy, the ceviches are exceptional, especially the salmon sashimi with a fierce leche de tigre and a hit of wasabi.
Manchego and prosciutto combine beautifully in a tight and flaky empanada, fried until the color of maple sap. A thoughtful tangle of fresh greens lends a necessary brightness.
Salads are all fresh, simple and full of flavor. My favorite is the golden beets with avocado and tangy, dramatically red blood orange segments.
A signature octopus starter also wows with its tender coins interspersed with puffy discs of white potato, tomato, onion and briny olives. It’s pulled together with a smoky, red pepper sauce that lends a creamy kick.
Though most dishes benefit from subtle saucing, less is definitely more here. A classic snapper in papillote for example contains little more than a few lemon rounds, thyme and chunks of tomato and onion. The once-delicate fish spent a few too many minutes in the heat, losing tenderness and flavor.
The taglietelle with a buttery broth and unwieldy wedges of artichoke lacked oomph. though the well-timed noodles were bitey and tender at the same time.
So-called proper sausage is a nicely charred, peppercorn-studded but fairly ordinary link served with a baked heirloom tomato.
Desserts are uniformly delicious and equally understated. A sporty brew adds kick to a coffee pannacotta that wins points for its super creamy, smooth and evenly textured base. A nugget of nutty cookie tops it off to add a bit of interest without detracting from the scene.
Likewise, the waiters work hard but make it look effortless. They are sufficiently experienced but also friendly and sincere.
While so other restaurants are still zig-zagging plates with multi-colored sauces and adding twigs of this and that, Jean Paul keeps things simple. Though not every dish works, this welcoming newcomer is bright, clean and equally inviting for lunch or dinner.
Another nice touch: bottled water, sparkling or flat and house-filtered, is on the house.
A budget-minded wine list includes plenty of drinkable by-the-glass options and some lovely bottles, though if you want something special, you might want to bring your own. What better housewarming gift than that?