Catch and South Beach make a perfect pair. They’re both hip, stylish, quirky, a bit garish and extremely expensive. Plus, they’re sprinkled with celebrity dust.
The twin of a Manhattan Meatpacking District hot spot, this eclectic but mostly Asian eatery is owned by the EMM Group, which has more nightclubs than restaurants. It shows.
If you want a coveted table upstairs, where soaring ceilings lend a warehouse vibe, you need not only a reservation but a name to drop. Cameron Diaz, Naomi Campbell and J Lo have been spotted nibbling up there. Easier to score, tables downstairs on the hotel lobby’s pretty terrazzo floor seem reserved for families, ahem, older folks and walk-ins.
Once seated, be warned that meals are quick and squatters not happily tolerated. Young, actor-handsome servers are enthusiastic if a little pushy as they sing the praises of the celebrity chef, Top Chef season-three winner Hung Huynh, whose vibrant flavors and dramatic presentations are well suited to this clubby crowd.
The menu he has created is competent and tasty, if mostly borrowed, with the best dishes combining salty, spicy, sweet, fresh and crunchy elements.
A soft, slightly clammy round of pretzel that’s hardly redeemed by a sweet mustard butter and a bowl of salt seems a weird way to begin what otherwise turns out to be a surprisingly pleasant meal.
The best dishes are simplest, like a Vietnamese-style lettuce wrap served with half heads of iceberg lettuce; a cute, cup-sized copper pot of sake-marinated chicken chunks and a thin, hoisin-like sauce with perfect squares of sliced cucumbers and tiny fried sweet potato threads.
Then there’s the Cantonese lobster, which, except for an absurd price tag ($89), is a dish I would come back for weekly. Two meaty Maine tails are hacked down the middle and served, plump and juicy, in a seriously spicy, green onion-laced brown sauce with hits of garlic, ginger and pepper. However, the claws, served (and presumably cooked) out of the shell, were rubbery.
My favorite side dish is a stir-fried mélange of green beans with loads of ginger, shredded savoy cabbage and bits of scallion.
The chef’s signature scallop dish with its drizzle of caramel sauce and nubs of overcooked cauliflower is beautifully arrayed with flourishes of microgreens and delicious in an overly sweet way.
Sushi and the rolls are fresh and large without packing excess rice, but also tend to include one too many ingredient, making the flavors murky. And, like much of the rest of the menu, which waiters explain is meant for sharing, the rolls are served inexplicably in orders of three or five.
Menu descriptions are terse, leaving a staff that is better dressed than trained to explain its intricacies. Waiters do seem to have been schooled on how to oversell diners; on every visit I have been talked into twice as many dishes as I needed or wanted. And intrusiveness is too often confused with attentiveness At one meal, my husband and I were asked seven times by three people, “Is everything OK?”
When it came time for dessert one waiter pronounced the peanut butter parfait “overrated,” but on another night we were steered to a spectacular Key lime donut: a warm pillow puff of fried dough drenched in a cheek-suckingly tangy lime glaze and served with a scoop of ultra creamy vanilla ice cream surrounded by dollops of lime curd and toasted swirls of merengue.
While I can’t say I’m hooked, Catch can make for one hot night on the town.
Contact Victoria Pesce Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.
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