From its early days as a cozy Venetian ristorante, the original Harry’s Bar that Giuseppe Cipriani opened in 1931 was a magnet for celebrity expats like Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote.
In the decades since, the Ciprianis have spun their magic around the globe with outposts in jet-set locales including London, Monte Carlo, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles. In May, fourth-generation Cipriani brothers Ignazio and Maggio opened their 20th location at the appropriately named Icon Brickell.
The bayside setting is one of the most stunning in Miami, with sunlight flooding the high-ceilinged room in the day and Murano glass chandeliers providing a sparkling glow at night.
Crisp white linen tablecloths and napkins edged in royal blue play off the vintage ocean liner motif with porthole windows of stainless steel set into shiny, walnut walls. The patrons, too, shimmer with tanned skin and expensive watches.
Cushy white leather banquettes and tables so close you can clink glasses with your neighbors lend a convivial feel. This is indeed the place to be seen.
The food and service, on the other hand, fluctuate as dramatically as the Venetian tides. On our first visit in June, we found the staff to be competent and pleasant — attentive without hovering.
Just two months later, a bungling team of waiters and bussers seemed to be enacting a Three Stooges skit. No one seemed to know whose dishes went where or when to clear empty plates.
One waiter tried to squeeze lemon on my pasta. Another took my drink before I had finished half of it — and at $17, you will want every sip of the signature Bellini made with hand-squeezed white peach juice.
Portions are decidedly petite, but with dishes so rich, it’s appropriate. The taglionlini, for example — tender, hand-hewn threads of pasta with tiny cubes of ham and buttery béchamel sauce baked until the top crisps — can be eaten in four forkfuls.
The best dishes are the simplest, including a gorgeous salad of mashed avocado and see-through sheets of raw artichoke crowned with crystalline panes of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Equally delightful, the perfectly shaved, red-as-roses beef carpaccio, said to have been invented by the Cipriani patriarch in the 1950s, is drizzled with a decadent, mustardy mayonnaise sauce.
The skin-on branzino looked the part with its perfect grill marks, but had not a hint of flavor. The baby broccoli di rabe, however, was deliciously bitey.
The fritto misto was more fritto than misto, with three-fourths of the dish made up of calamari ringlets and hardly a skinny white fish in the mix. The breading may have been as fine as Pratesi silk sheets, but the dish’s tepid temperature detracted from the effect. A thick aioli was a nice addition, but the pedestrian marinara sauce cheapened it.
A beautiful little ramekin of eggplant parmesan had an unfortunate bitter twinge.
We didn’t sample any of the incongruent Japanese dishes on the menu but they tend to be on the lighter side.
Desserts are of the old-school and very-sweet variety, including a signature vanilla merengue cake that is a simple pleasure with an espresso.
The carefully crafted wine list includes trophy bottles and fine Italian varietals at prices that are only shocking if you are not used to the game.
When the handsome Cipriani brothers get their front- and back-of-the-house teams in order, this will be an ideal spot to bring a date or a client to close the deal. Until then, wait for an invitation.
Contact Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.