La Gloutonnerie, the Mexican import of an ambitious French brasserie, definitely got the name right. This low-key replacement for the kitschy Au Pied de Cochon is a friendly South Beach addition for those craving enormous portions of pricey French fare with some Italian and Latin flavors thrown in for good measure.
The redesigned space in a gorgeous Art Deco building is pretty in a stage-set kind of way. It’s luxurious but cozy with its backlit wine wall, finely upholstered banquettes and rustic wooden tables set cleanly with gray paper placemats. Large globe lights shed a flattering glow.
A meal here starts with an irresistible basket of warm, crispy, butter-yellow baguettes, olive bread, chunky whole-grain peasant loaves and puffy, Gruyère-topped gougères.
The menu stretches well beyond the confines of French cuisine with more than 65 items plus daily specials. They also offer a raw bar, some nice cheeses and jamon iberico as well as Italian specialties like stuffed cannelloni, linguini alla positano, lasagna, spaghetti, risottos, burrata with olive puree and pesto as well as shrimp carpaccio with a salsa of peaches, shallots and thyme.
We stuck with the French offerings, finding some overwrought, all over-portioned and a few gems worth sampling alongside that fantastic breadbasket.
I would come again for the exquisitely velvety foie gras terrine. As big as a deck of playing cards, the smooth pâté gorgeously plated with a dab of fig chutney and a delicate but unnecessary embellishment of tiny edible flowers could have been a meal in itself for any pair of gluttons. Especially with the warm, extra-flaky fennel biscuits that arrived a few minutes later.
A tender and juicy roast chicken half, bronzed as a tennis pro, was served with tiny fingerling potatoes that could have used more crispness in the skin and less sweetness in the sauce.
A beautiful looking gratinée Lyonnaise, classic onion soup, had stunningly toasted cheese topping and a nice tangle of caramelized onions, but the heavy-handed broth tasted of too much wine.
Fine French restaurants amaze me with salads that seem to wear an invisible sheen of dressing that brings out the flavors of the greens. Here, the bright and crunchy but drenched salade des cotes d’armor with lobster, asparagus and avocado could have shed a few coats of that armor.
The porto brandade served on polenta squares with a smack of truffle oil is clunky. Instead of the classic silky emulsion, these cod balls were thick and pasty as tuna salad. Escargots by the dozen were likewise dry, served with a bland, chunky paste of parsley butter with no sauce for dunking that fabulous bread.
Missing are such bistro favorites as steak frites. The closest we could find was a Fred Flintstone-sized entrecote smothered in a bordelaise sauce the color of molasses and twice as thick that detracted from the well-marbled meat, which was cooked to a perfect medium-rare.
The shrimp and shallots flambé with cognac had a lovely confetti of fresh-chopped parsley but were overcooked until each tasted like the other.
Duck confit was likewise overkill with nothing to tame the rich, unctuous flavors. The tawny flesh was stringy, salty and over-sauced with a sweet plum glaze, sided by a mélange of sticky, roasted carrots and shiitake mushrooms and a gooey potato gratin.
Servers are friendly, though not particularly well-versed in French fare or language. Ours seemed unable to make out my Parisian friend’s order (or mine, for that matter), and busboys were either overeager or absent. We had to wave them away multiple times while we still had our forks raised and call them over when they seemed to have forgotten us.
For dessert, we sampled what the menu described as a “traditional, vintage crème brûlée.” Instead we got three shot glasses that were as inconsistent as the meal: A citrusy rendition with a perfectly caramelized top was a bit too stiff and spongy, the plain was cold and rubbery, and the chocolate was velvety and smooth — just right.
Slightly better was the gigantic Grande Marnier soufflé with a perfect crème anglais. Ours, however, arrived deflated.
The food at this new South of Fifth spot may lack subtlety, but if you order well and are ready to spend, there are a few jewels.