When visitors came to town and we wanted them to taste the sweets that earned Oprah’s raves, we took them to Ice Box Cafe’s Lincoln Road nook for a tall, fat slice of German chocolate or coconut buttercream cake.
And when we need a preflight bite of sustenance, a fresh Thai chicken salad or simple hummus-and-spicy feta sandwich from Ice Box’s quick-service shop at Miami International Airport always does the trick.
But with Ice Box’s newest endeavor (it moved in May to bigger digs in South Beach’s hip Sunset Harbour Shops after 15 years next to Lincoln Road) the sweet, the fresh and the simple can be hard to find.
Instead, Robert Siegmann’s Ice Box seems to struggle with basics while charging premium prices for some of its new dinner entrees: $36 for a beef filet served rare, ordered medium-rare, with an ice-cold slab of yuzu butter on top, or $27 for weakly seared scallops with their tough “catch” muscles still attached.
During weekend brunch, the 120-seat restaurant is packed inside and out with mimosa-sippers, stroller-toters and yoga pants-wearers. An overwhelmed kitchen could explain why a speedy plate of scrambled eggs arrived with hardened, stale wheat toast and cold potatoes that had been fried some time well before I ordered. It doesn’t explain why servers fill coffee cups only halfway with something that leaves you yearning for the ground-bean goodness next door at Panther Coffee.
The setting is bright and airy with white accents; modern-rustic, in a Restoration Hardware sort of way. The space feels open and comfortable even during busy breakfast and lunch hours, but at night, the lighting can be jarring and less than romantic.
The dinner menu takes several turns through Southeast Asia. But it’s a Mexican dish, sopes, that’s a standout appetizer. Thick corn shells about the diameter of drink coasters hold juicy, shredded rotisserie chicken with zippy chipotle cream ,or smoky pulled pork and black beans, or mushrooms topped with mild queso blanco.
Tender, meaty pork spare ribs glazed with tamarind sauce and served with a side of spicy, funky kimchee are a tasty value at $11 for three.
The simple, fresh sides that accompany dinner entrees also are very good. I could have eaten a plate of the wilted kale, edamame and shiitake salad served with the scallops. And deeply caramelized brussels sprouts gave a boost to the plate of undercooked filet.
Ice Box may go overboard on simplicity with its $14 salad of arugula, avocado and seeds (flax, pumpkin, sunflower), which is served without dressing. It’s one of about a half-dozen gluten-free items on the menu, but I suspect that celiac sufferers and the rest of us would appreciate some oil and vinegar to keep those dry greens appetizing.
Ice Box is still at its best when it comes to sweets.
For breakfast, guava-filled French toast is as good as ever: steaming-hot housemade brioche stuffed with sweet, tangy guava and served with a thick piece of bacon and a side of butterscotch sauce. I don’t even like butterscotch, but I found salty-sweet bliss by dipping that bacon into the sauce.
The cakes, too, are still tall and fat and moist and wonderful, although it’s a shame they’re hidden toward the back and not on display up front like at the old place. Carrot cake tastes just like it’s supposed to, with plump raisins and shredded carrots peeking out from cream cheese frosting.
A to-go order for an oatmeal raisin and a peanut butter cookie yielded two oatmeal raisin cookies.
I realized the mix-up when I got home, and it made me wonder: Would this have happened at the old Ice Box, with its smaller space and simpler menus?
Maybe. Regardless, next time I take a visitor to the new Ice Box, it will be for a taste of something sweet.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.