Two stars for Komodo restaurant in Brickell

At Komodo, the party is in the atmosphere, not necessarily in your mouth. (Handout)
At Komodo, the party is in the atmosphere, not necessarily in your mouth. (Handout)

Miami Beach’s China Grill was always more of a see-and-be-seen spot than a serious food restaurant. At least in the early ’90s, lots of those multi-culti dishes were innovative. Instead of a cover charge, guests were happy to blow serious cash on Shanghai lobster and flash-fried spinach. For its modern-day redux on Brickell Avenue, it’s perfect that Jeffrey Chodorow teamed up with nightlife entrepreneur David Grutman, better known as the guy who makes Liv live and Story worth telling about.

The lavish $15 million Komodo would have made a great backdrop for Miami Vice. Three-story ceilings are slashed with red neon spears and party “nests.” Multiple DJ booths and a vast patio draw more attention than the glass-enclosed kitchen, where a lone chef hangs whole birds that are as golden tan as the decked-out diners who wear Michael Kors not Mouawad. Tables lie closer together than the Kardashian sisters at a slumber party.

On weekends, getting a reservation at the 300-seat hotspot is tough. Even finding enough real estate to stand at the bar for a $17 cocktail is tricky.

Lobster rings at Komodo

The food includes some Asian classics and a mishmash of trendy ingredients refashioned to appeal to … um … trendy diners. Yes, burrata actually takes a turn here with eggplant miso. All kinds of dumplings show up (beef, vegetable and shrimp) wrapped in thickish envelopes around not very flavorful stuffing. Even the “angry” shrimp aren’t feisty. Calamari rings are fresh and flavorful with a sweet chili sauce. A greasy, deep-fried eggroll stuffed with pastrami with a spicy brown mustard gained a cult following in L.A., where it appeared in food trucks and delis over the last couple of decades, but it is not the kind of food that I want to eat. The best starter we had was octopus nibs — as plain as can be but still tasty. But most dishes are too sweet, too salty and too greasy to appeal. 

Waiters are evidently trained to upsell customers, because even when three waify friends and I had ordered seven dishes, we were told to order more. It is true that dishes are small. A $19 hearts of palm salad supposedly made with passion fruit had none in evidence, but it was instead dotted with black sesame seeds and served alongside some bruised avocado slices.


Lobster dynamite and Komodo roll

The namesake komodo roll, though stuffed with chopped mushrooms and noxious-smelling truffle oil, lacked any umami pop. The “dynamite lobster” failed to explode. It is a mayonnaise-y mess with very little actual lobster on top of a cold block of fried quinoa.

Perfectly adequate main plates include a plank of seared salmon with a thread of pesto made with shisho leaves. 

The much anticipated Peking duck was a letdown. It is served with a basket of pancakes, a mild hoisin sauce and the traditional slivers of scallion and cucumber. It lacks the requisite crispy skin, and equally important, has as much flavor as a paper bag. No wonder the waiter steered us away from it, saying, “nobody really orders that.” For $92, I can see why. 

No matter what you do, it’s easy to drop a quick $100 even without a sip of wine from a list that includes lower-end bottles like a $56 Trimbach Pinot Blanc that is marked up nearly five times retail.

Desserts include the “Cloud Nine,” a chocolate overload doused in mango passion fruit sauce invented by the Norwegian DJ Kygo. The most popular sweet is a rich “nutty bar,” that like so many other dishes here, has one too many ingredients. In this case it is a dollop of raspberry coulis that detracts from the delectable combination of Snickers-like peanuts with an almond sponge base and chewy caramel. It’s good but not worth the calories or cash.

Despite some culinary shortcomings, Komodo is a fun spot for overblown bar food and some only-in-Miami people watching. It’s dark, moody, crowded, loud and super trendy at this moment. Absolutely everything is overpriced. But then again, there is no entertainment charge and, it is — if nothing else — entertaining.

Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.