A trip to the new Michael Mina 74 is a must on any food aficionado’s checklist. To say that the Egyptian-born chef takes food seriously is like saying Tina Fey knows how to make people laugh.
The excellent food is only slightly diminished by the dark, basement-like space beneath the Fontainebleau lobby with a ceiling of partially exposed black ductwork that looks more creepy than edgy and by hostesses in slinky, red bandage dresses who yank at at their miniskirts like giggly teenagers.
Seating can be uncomfortable if you end up at a tight table close enough to overhear neighboring conversations. And some of the booths are so long — about six feet — that diners have to assist in clearing plates. Tables are bare wood, music is an eclectic mix, and well-trained servers tend toward the exuberant.
The global menu is tightly edited and with a focus on bold flavors, creating a sort of international bistro with approachable food that is at once simple and elegant. A terrific wine list complements it, with good choices from around the world and many fine by-the-glass options.
Every meal starts with toasty bread, including one of the most subtle, crusty olive loaves I have ever tasted served with dark salted butter so creamy I wanted to eat it with a spoon.
Everything we tasted was exceptional, but my favorites came from the sea.
Mina has created a luxe, dim-sum like experience for raw bar items with a cart that rolls through the dining room. Only lobster tails and stone crabs were local, with lobsters, prawns, caviar and oysters shipped in from as far as Nigeria.
It was tempting, but we chose instead a tableside preparation of scotch-bonnet flecked tuna tartar and pine nuts as well as a duo of ceviches with diced octopus in a coconut foam and pompano in bracing Key lime marinade. The real stunner came by way of a red curry broth that supported a rice cake with baby shrimp cake, a plump scallop and a large fillet of red snapper with nicely crisped skin.
A crazy-beautiful pompano fillet was dressed in a tuxedo of potato scales and served with three colors of baby cauliflower in a richly complex romesco sauce.
The only head scratcher was the shrimp Louie salad, a riff on a classic that didn’t quite work. Baby greens and half an upside down avocado concealed a tiny portion of perky rock shrimp in a mayo dressing that was a bit blah.
We skipped the $85 lobster pot pie, which I’ve found tasty but not worth the exorbitant price at Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Aventura.
Vegetables are treated with reverence at Michael Mina 74. Especially notable is the gloriously composed puff pasty topped with gently warmed burrata cheese layered with black truffle shavings. The tiny pickled enoki mushrooms and pools of parsley and mushroom purees lend a bright edge.
Hidden on the bottom of the menu are the decadent truffle donuts. Similar to an Indian vada or fritter, these deep-fried puffs are made with celery root batter and covered in shavings of black truffle and Parmesan cheese.
I also succumbed to the phenomenal dry-aged steak burger, with every element is so perfectly put together that it is irresistible. A black pepper bun is slightly sweet and airy but holds up well to the juicy meat, tangy sauce and gooey house-made American cheese. Crisp romaine adds a slight crunch, while thin strips of smoky bacon lends additional depth.
A nod to Miami food culture comes by way of a pig roasted caja china style and served with tostones and pigeon peas with annatto rice. Mina preps the pork three ways: two thick, fried “cigars” of shredded meat, a buttery wedge of belly and a deliciously seasoned, juicy loin.
Desserts like the tropical pavlova continue the grown-up, casual perfection, with puffy islands of baked coconut meringue floating in a sea of lemon verbena-spiked pineapple broth and sugar-sweet bits of pineapple.
Mina and his talented chef de cuisine, Thomas Griese, pulls off a spectacular dining experience despite the nightclubby, not-sure-what-it-wants-to-be space.
After such a sublime culinary experience, we couldn’t help but laugh when the bill arrived with two Hershey’s chocolate kisses on top. Not exactly a gourmet ending, but a sweet attempt.