Blame Julia Child. She made Americans think everything French should taste better. Twelve years after her death, we still want to believe, despite evidence to the contrary.
Like the French onion soup at French 27.
Possessing the depth and flavor of a bouillon cube, the excessively sweet, thin stock was topped with a giant mound of cheese-flecked puff pastry that, when removed, revealed a lump of stringy onions. Julia would not be pleased.
One in a slew of new French restaurants that has opened in Miami-Dade County in the past year — with none living up to our high expectations —French 27 is in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood. It occupies the former Porfirio’s sprawling, indoor-outdoor space. A black grand piano doubles as a hostess stand. Candles lit at dusk and rose petals floating in the patio fountain strike an impressive entrance.
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In case there is any doubt that a French restaurant has taken over, there are obvious clues: French electronic music sporadically plays out of large speakers hidden in the covered patio’s black rocks and rhapis palms, black-and-white films of French celebrities project on the wall, and vintage dress forms clad in corsets last seen on Toulouse-Lautrec can-can dancers are scattered about.
Inside, a handsome wood bar leads to a cathedral-style, two-story ceiling that yawns over white-tablecloth seating for about 100, creating an elegant — often empty — setting. A small army of waiters hovers in the wings. On one of our two visits, their extreme boredom resulted in service that was so attentive, it bordered on annoying as they constantly interrupted to straighten silverware and fill our oversized water glasses.
Beginnings are pleasant enough. Two small loaves of crusty French bread and wrapped, soft squares of butter start off the meal on a warm note.
Unfortunately, our scallop carpaccio was the same temperature. Disturbingly soft and lukewarm, the coins were topped by crunchy radishes and microgreens. Even salty caviar and tart white yuzu could not resuscitate the seafood.
Escargot tartiflette, made with camembert, blue cheese and puff pastry, was a redeeming starter, with garlic-butter sauce softening the warm, crusty pockets. However, our high hopes were dashed again by an appetizer of risotto that had been boiled down to a brick-red, heavy mush with indistinguishable bits of lobster and asparagus. Shards of parmesan stuck out from the starchy, overcooked mass like warning signs of danger ahead. A fettuccini entrée with mascarpone, royal trumpet mushrooms and port-red wine sauce shared the same heavy notes, although we found this dish slightly more edible.
A trio of shrimp, crab and lobster cocktail tastings seemed like an odd throwback to the site’s days as a mediocre Mexican restaurant. Creamy guacamole created a bland base for all three, clashing in particular with the extra-sweet dressing in the crab sampler.
Meat entrées fared better. The 8-ounce filet mignon was cooked perfectly to order and served as steak frites, with hot fries and herb butter on the side. Braised short ribs were tender and juicy atop mashed potatoes, soaking up a rich, full-bodied au jus.
But our Scottish salmon was soft, bordering on mushy, a sorry state that even the pleasant lemon buerre blanc with capers and firm new potatoes could not mask.
French 27 is like the bright student who seldom tries to live up to his potential, a frustrating combination.
Desserts deflated any higher aspirations. Vanilla ice cream overwhelmed both the bite-sized, chocolate-filled bombolini and the barely heated bread pudding. The brittle sugar topping on our creme brûlée was as icy as the cream underneath, with none of the hot-cool contrast of a freshly brûléed custard.
French 27 gets its name from the 27 regions of France. In this case, someone lost the map.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
If you go
Place: French 27
Address: 850 Commerce St., Miami Beach
Rating: ☆½ (subpar)
Contact: 305-764-3948, french27.com
Hours: 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Prices: $15-$25 appetizers, $28-$39 entrees, $15 desserts
FYI: VS, MC, AmEx; full bar; street parking and valet.