More than 2,000 people live on tiny, urban Brickell Key. On any given evening, you will find many of them strolling, jogging or watching their children learn how to dribble a soccer ball on the village green, surrounded by high-rises in the middle of the 44-acre, wedge-shaped island just outside downtown Miami.
For such a small community, the dining choices are sublime, although pricey. This is home to the Naoe sushi shrine and Mandarin Oriental’s Azul.
The Island Bistro, formerly known as Fabien’s, tries to fill a casual, French-influenced niche by offering a wide-ranging menu of cream- and truffle-adorned classic dishes as well as pasta, risotto and small plates of calamari, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks.
Open for about a year, the bistro is in a small strip of shops laced with white latticework just inside the entrance of Brickell Key. Diners can eat on a patio or inside, where a black-and-white cityscape of Paris papers one wall. Faux brick and warehouse-style shelves of wine line the others. Wood-grain laminate tables and a concrete floor are softened by recycled wine bottles made into charming oil candles.
A complimentary basket of warm French rolls with butter starts the meal on a positive note, as does an appetizer of firm shrimp and seafood in a Basque pil-pil sauce of oil and garlic, a rosemary sprig saluting from the dish.
Other appetizers, however, fail to impress, particularly a pricey one our waiter recommended, foie gras with onion jam that came ice cold and hard and did not warm to room temperature and bloom into flavor until our entrees arrived.
Seafood entrees were hit-or-miss. A moist, nut-crusted corvina special was light and buttery, with a pleasing lemon sauce seeping into side dishes of truffle-mashed potatoes and snappy, sautéed zucchini, squash and onions. Grilled mahi mahi, however, was overcooked and tough. Its accompanying mango salsa was bitter, not juicy, and the mashed potatoes were cold.
The lobster, scallops and shrimp in the seafood linguine were soggy and chewy, as if frozen and thawed one too many times.
It’s best to stick to the French classics. A creamy chicken fricassee with fingerling potatoes and French green beans was silky and straight-forward. A rosemary veal chop also was respectable, but failed to live up to its price point.
Large portions make it easy to opt out of desserts, which may be wise. Our bread pudding — two thick slices of French toast with a crème anglais dipping sauce — was soggy and undercooked.
Our waiter on both occasions was ham-handed, with a tableside manner so overbearing we didn’t mind when he disappeared. (The couple next to us who spent 10 minutes trying to wave him down would disagree.)
A restaurant that bills itself as a bistro shouldn’t smack diners with entrees just shy of $50, especially if it can’t deliver the dishes or service to match. The Island Bistro seems strangely quiet and empty amid the hustle and bustle of Brickell Key. Now we know why.