Banish whatever stereotypes of snooty French restaurants you may have. La Petite Maison may look like a highfaluting dandy — but, on the contrary, this Brickell gem is down-to-earth, especially when it comes to the “clean” cooking that defines it.
Opened this past winter, this not-so-petite maison (some 4,600 square feet plus an outdoor patio) is the first American cousin of the original opened in Nice, three decades ago.
Like Zuma, it was a personal favorite of restaurateur and principal shareholder Arjun Waney. After being smitten with the Nice original, he opened an outpost in London, then Dubai, with plans to expand in New York and Los Angeles, as well. The cuisine is Niçoise: an irresistible example of French Mediterranean cuisine that relies on fresh herbs, vegetables and seafood rather than heavy sauces or complicated techniques.
“It has got to be so simple you have to think you can do it home,” explains the chef patron, Raphael Duntoye.
Like Zuma, Coya and Waney’s other projects, the space is gorgeous. Ceilings soar, dotted with modern artwork, and spacious tables dressed in white linen hold bottles of glistening olive oil, beefy tomatoes and whole lemons.
For the most part, the service is nothing short of miraculous — especially by Miami standards. The team is extraordinarily well groomed, well spoken, well dressed, well mannered and well informed.
That begins with an initial call for reservations and continues to the bar, where the staff in crisp white shirts and tailored vests turn out cocktails — both classic and creative — that rise above.
Once at the table, a sumptuous bread selection appears as if summoned by| mental telepathy. And waiters give clear and compelling menu descriptions.
The menu is full of classic Niçoise dishes including a lush pissaladière, a light plank of crust with a layer of onions that makes you realize how apt the term caramelized is. The sweetness is offset by the salty, briny hit of anchovies that dot the pretty starter. The ratatouille shares a similar velvety verdancy that here takes its salt and creaminess from tiny dots of sharp feta cheese.
The seafood is some of the best I have had in Miami. Most of it is shipped in from colder waters. We had an ethereal snapper carpaccio, blushing lozenges of one-bite wonders bathed in olive oil and lemon with a hint of coarse sel de mer bringing it back to the sea.
The warm prawns were like exquisite jewels, luxuriating in a pool of velvety oil and basil.
Plump escargot are so full of herbs that to make a meal of them with one of the electric salads like green beans with artichokes, a crusty baguette and a glass of white Burgundy would suit me fine.
Speaking of wine, the list is, of course, French-centric, but it also includes well-curated Italian, Spanish and New World options. For those who don’t find a five-ounce-by-the-glass option enough, there is a 15-ounce carafe.
The silken pastas are clearly made by hand, including a tender pappardelle with a subtle veal Bolognese sauce that is much soupier than any I’ve sampled.
A famous chicken is no ordinary bird. The heritage Green Circle variety is raised on an Amish farm in Pennsylvania and fed vegetarian kitchen scraps from Michelin-starred chefs. They are stuffed with some 200 grams of the finest Rouge foie gras and croutons to soak up the melting fat. At $140, it is good to know it can easily feed at least two. Since it takes an hour to cook, you can call ahead to request one, or mention it to the waiter as you are seated.
A whole branzino with its golden, crisped skin and flaky white flesh is a gorgeous thing to behold and to share for the whole table.
Carnivores celebrate the thick, bone-in rib-eye that is seared to a stunning midnight hue revealing a bright pink center.
The duck a l’orange, a vintage favorite and a rare find in these parts, is a classic with the sunshiney zest of fresh citrus playing against the rich leg meat.
Desserts are equally bright, including a frothy foam of strawberries served like a puff of air over a tangy, smooth yogurt ice cream. Tiny cream-filled doughnuts are cold on the plate, a mistake I think is problematic.
The vanilla-speckled crème brûlée is another study in contrasts with a shatteringly crystalline top and creamy custard, while another classic, the tart fine, is prepared as perfectly as an origami angel with see-through sheaves of tart apples.
Like all newcomers to Miami, this little house will have a learning curve. Locals tend to arrive late for their reservations and camp out, causing a backup in the bar by about 9 o’clock. The reservationist does advise guests of a two-hour window, and that is reinforced with a confirmation email.
The space is bustling, even uncomfortably loud sometimes. And when strolling bands stroll — something done only very occasionally — it feels like a party.
Phenomenally, Petite is packed every night even in the middle of summer, when their targeted clientele is mostly jet-setting. Come season, I expect this to be one very full house.
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If you go
Place: La Petite Maison
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2 (Excellent)
Address: 1300 Brickell Bay Dr.
Hours: Noon-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, till 3 p.m. Saturday for lunch; 6-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday until October.
Prices: Appetizers and first plates $5-$35; main plates $20-140; sides $6-$9; dessert $10-$13.
FYI: Valet parking $5 for lunch and $15 dinner and metered street parking; full bar; no corkage permitted; 18 percent gratuity automatically added; 20 percent on tables of six or more; tables are reserved for a two-hour time limit; reservations strongly suggested; AE, DC, MC, VS.