Downtown Miami is proof that the much-talked-about food renaissance is finally becoming a reality. If Alloy, the exquisite new downtown bistro, is any indication, then Michelangelo has moved to the 305.
Open less than two months, this sexy spot stashed in an urban courtyard steps from the new Langford Hotel (where the Pubbelly boys are doing their part at PB Station) offers an experience that is at once exhilarating and comforting.
The Mediterranean-looking space, the earnest staff and the carefully crafted dishes share an embraceable elegance. It is the love child of a 30-something trio that includes chef Federico Genovese, his brother Claudio Genovese and partner Luna Bertolotti.
The Italian-born brothers were raised in France and found their way to Miami, first Claudio more than a decade ago; then Federico just at the beginning of this year. Federico and wife Alia Mahmoud — who met in Tunisia, where she worked in the tech realm — found Miami offered pioneering opportunities for both. Lucky us.
The brothers worked together for just over two months to build out the gorgeously whitewashed space with just 35 seats inside and out. The chef even handcrafted the communal table from repurposed oak he bought on craigslist. The dramatic arches, simple candles, low-key music and tiles hand-carried from Tunis lend to the cool vibe.
In a slash of a window that reveals the quiet, calm kitchen you can catch glimpses of Federico quietly creating dishes like a painter. It might be a take on tuna tataki with pickled radishes or a classic squid ink risotto.
The menu changes completely each day and lists maybe six or up to 10 items. There is one dessert a night. Each plate comes out one at a time and is meant to be shared. The quirky and approachable wine list with its mostly Old World selections has some great options for pairing and lots of by-the-glass choices, too.
While looking over the tightly edited menu, guests can dig into a lusty omek houria, a spicy, classic, cooked carrot dip from Tunisia served with soldiers of nutty whole grain bread.
There is always at least one smoked dish on the menu. Ours arrived under a dome of cherrywood smoke that the waiter, well, Claudio, released as it hit the table. An earthy perfume evaporated in a moment leaving a silken spear of cabbage enveloped in a see-through sheaf of watermelon surrounded by a zippy watercress sauce with cushions of fresh-made focaccia and a smear of creamy goat cheese foam.
Heirloom tomato salad with puffs of goat cheese and a stunning confetti of edible flowers is equally fresh and bright.
Another exceptional starter comes as nibs of super tender, grilled octopus tentacles skipping across a plate of spring green avocado sauce and lightened by watercress and snappy, red Brazilian pimenta biquinho, or little beak peppers.
The filet mignon is a stunning cut of tender beef painted with dehydrated soy, miso paste and charcoal until its surface has the glossy finish of a billiard eight-ball. It is sliced in two to reveal its dramatically juicy pink center. Earthy shitake and oyster mushrooms, a pool of green pea puree, pickled red onion and pops of fresh herbs elevate it to a most exquisite experience.
Gorgeously and ever so lightly grilled red mullets arrive on the plate looking as if they came from the pages of Dr. Seuss. The crayon-red skins, seared just right, are set off by a creamy green pea puree, just-spun olive paste and a shower of peppery microbasil.
We had to remind ourselves once or twice that Alloy is an experimental arena and not everything works perfectly every time. We found, for example, the carpaccio of black radishes to be nicely sharp and crisp. But this one did not stand on its own. It was too much of a good thing. A smaller portion might have made a great complement to an earthier, hot entrée, like the butternut risotto or the ethereal, hand-hewn agnolotti stuffed with shredded oyster mushrooms.
As for presentation, every plate is more Instagramable than the next but none is ridiculously garnished — OK, maybe orchid petals are not necessary on quite so many dishes. But taste is never sacrificed for looks.
Desserts have been outstanding on every visit, but the favorite is the deconstructed cheesecake featuring a plum-sized orb of sweet-tangy Greek yogurt alongside a mound of cookie crumbs and mouth-puckeringly pickled cherry slices and julienned mint. Genovese, it seems, is equally facile in classic and modern techniques. For every gel or foam or spherification there is a beautifully smoked or pickled or braised element. It is a high-wire act of tangy and sweet, salty and fat, bitter and umami. A textural feast.
The flavors and presentation here are so fresh and clean, the setting equally charming and inviting. It is a foodie haven for those ready for a culinary adventure that makes you happy to be in the middle of something that tastes important.
Follow Victoria on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE and on her Facebook fan page.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
If you go
Place: Alloy Bistro Gourmet
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2 (Excellent)
Address: 154 SE First Ave., Miami
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; till 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers $14-$19; entrees $26-$40; desserts $15.
FYI: Beer and wine only; corkage $20; metered street parking, garage or valet parking from $10; reservations encouraged and available by phone and online. AX, DS, MC, VS.
What the stars mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)