Though we had made reservations, the host at the Trapiche Room seemed startled when we arrived. With its wood-paneled walls and thick carpet, the formal dining nook on the second floor of the JW Marriott Miami was library-quiet and nearly empty on our visits.
Brickell-area business travelers apparently eschew the Trapiche Room’s dark upholstery, vineyard murals and sponge-painted ceiling for livelier offerings more reflective of the Magic City. Why pretend you’re in the Old World when the New World beckons just outside the door?
That makes sense, but it’s too bad. The snug, 10-table space offers a succinct, smartly edited menu that is anything but predictable.
A complimentary basket of soft rolls, served with olive tapenade, arrives in a cloud of warm, welcoming yeast. It is quickly followed by an amuse-bouche of fried, crunchy duck strips with hoisin sauce, saffron and red pepper on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce.
There are just five entrees and two pasta dishes, but this is a case where less is more. Executive chef Daniel Goldich’s career has taken him from his native Philadelphia to hotel kitchens in France, California and, most recently, Tampa (Pelagia Trattoria at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel), and his menu reflects a confident, international sensibility.
Pan-seared Chilean sea bass, a Miami menu mainstay, resists the obvious with a dusting of Italian rosemary salt, a rich lobster-limoncello sauce and an earthy risotto made with farro rather than rice.
Crab-cake appetizers are slightly left of center, too, with a touch of ginger and a mango-avocado salsa that is more savory than sweet.
The starter that most delighted us was a rich and silky braised zucchini and saffron soup with thin strips of vegetables, served piping hot and tarted up by a dollop of violet beet foam.
The standout main dish was Goldich’s incredibly juicy and tender pork loin. The chef wraps heritage kurobuta pork in “speck” (actually caul fat from the lacy membrane surrounding the pig’s innards). It keeps the meat moist and forms a crusty, tasty web with its own smoky flavor. A bold grappa cherry sauce, bits of glazed carrots and roasted fingerling potato halves complete the hearty plate.
We were less impressed with the braised veal osso buco ragout, which came atop a soufflé-like gnocchi with an orange gremolata adding texture and zest. The veal pieces were cut too small, and the gigantic gnocchi was too chewy.
Smartly dressed desserts redeem any disappointments. A creamy cappuccino crème brûlée comes to the table with its fine-spun sugar crust still ablaze, a colorful handful of candied rose petals strewn along the side. Limoncello ricotta cheesecake with strawberry compote also gets its own unexpected punctuation — a sugared orange chip.
Once roused by our presence, the lonely host snapped into an efficient server who was knowledgeable about the menu and seemed truly proud of each dish he carried with flourish through the swinging wooden door at the back of the restaurant.
Goldich oversees all six of the dining outlets in the JW Marriott Miami, but he is at his creative best in the petite, polite confines of Trapiche. His originality may be well-hidden in its conventional hotel habitat, but his seasonally changing menu is worth seeking out.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper's expense.